New York: Human Rights Watch has urged Pakistan government to revise its blasphemy law with the ultimate aim of repealing it, taking a cue from the recent Pakistan Supreme Court’s decision to quash the conviction of Wajih-ul-Hassan, who had been sentenced to death in 2002 for writing allegedly blasphemous letters.
The human rights body also called for dropping similar charges on scores of people in Pakistan, saying abuse was inherent in the country’s blasphemy law.
On September 25, 2019, the Pakistan Supreme Court had ruled that the prosecution failed to provide substantial evidence against Hassan, who by then had spent almost 18 years in prison.
Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code, known as the blasphemy law, carries what is effectively a mandatory death sentence. According to the Center for Social Justice, a Pakistani advocacy group, at least 1,472 people were charged under the blasphemy provisions from 1987 to 2016. Although there have been no executions, at least 17 people convicted of blasphemy is currently on death row, while many others are serving life sentences for related offenses.
A mere accusation of blasphemy can put the security of the accused at risk. Since 1990, at least 65 people have been killed in Pakistan over claims of blasphemy, based on media reports.
Pakistan’s government should repeal sections 295 and 298 of the penal code, which includes the blasphemy law and the law discriminating against the Ahmadiyya religious community, Human Rights Watch said. The government should also promptly and appropriately prosecute those responsible for planning and carrying out attacks against religious minorities.
“The Supreme Court took an important step by ending Hassan’s horrific ordeal, though many more charged with blasphemy are languishing in Pakistani prisons,” Adams said. “Repealing the blasphemy law is necessary to ensure that all Pakistanis can live free from fear of unjust punishment and discrimination.”