AHRC Urgent Appeals: Theory and Practice

AHRC Urgent Appeals: Theory and Practice

*This text can be found on the AHRC Urgent Appeals homepage. It was written for civil society, across Asia.

The AHRC’s Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power, or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, Urgent Appeals swiftly and effectively broadcast and deal with the incident. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.

A need for dialogue on human rights

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while others are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many still, are frustrated with the absence of rights to protect and promote gender equality, the environment, and fair, safe labour practices. Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere, among friends and family, within their social circles. Although the media may cover the issues in a broad manner, they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive, or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent can be discouraged as unfashionable and unpatriotic.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those who are less fortunate.

In this way, causes for complaint are not addressed, discussed or resolved, and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society: bringing human rights issues into the open

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and could be controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off, and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

How does the UA system work? 

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative, and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and former director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right.”

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region


Defamation of religions at the UN: The current consensus

Defamation of religions at the UN: The current consensus

Taken from ‘Defamation of Religions: International Developments and Challenges on the Ground‘ for the SOAS International Human Rights Clinic Project and the Cairo Institute on Human Rights Studies (2011)

As now established, international support for the OIC-sponsored resolutions has been waning since a high point in 2006, despite the minor concessionary changes in language.[1] This section aims to establish the present consensus on the concept at the UN, both in the reception of the resolutions in the past year and through the expressions of official opinion via various other UN fora.

The 2010 resolution at the HRC in March 2010 saw its lowest margin yet, placing it just four votes from defeat: 20 states in favour and 17 against.[2] Argentina and Zambia voted against the resolution for the first time, and according to the UN monitoring group, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Chile, Argentina and Mexico made strong statements during the vote that voiced their commitment to upholding the freedom of expression while combating all forms of intolerance.[3] In November 2010 at the UN‘s Third Committee the draft resolution was also passed by a 12-vote margin (81 to 55 with 43 abstentions), which was much lower than the previous year’s 26 (76 to 64 with 42 abstentions), and was upheld in December’s GA.[4] Although a small number of states moved to abstain after holding positions against the resolution, no new states chose to support it.

Both 2010 resolutions express ‘deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism’ and directly reference the ‘special duties and responsibilities’ and thus the possible legal limits of free expression as contained in Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR. Yet as noted earlier, they do not call for the criminalisation of defamation, as requested by the OIC at the second session of the Ad Hoc Committee in 2009. According to the bulletin released by the Department of Public Information in November 2010, the issues raised in the Third Committee tracked similar fault lines from previous debates through the decade: there were requests from several delegations that there be less focus on Islam in particular.[5] Albania and India expressed disapproval that the text continued to promote research into the link between defamation and racism; and various states expressed concerns for the harm the resolution could do to free expression. Focus was again brought to the ICCPR and also, by Finland, to the ICESCR in its appeal to states to ratify the treaties and consider their optional protocols. In turn, OIC states, represented by Syria, continued to stress the increase in ‘demonic’ portrayals of Islam and Muslims and anti-Muslim legislation, such as the restrictions being imposed on the construction of places of worship, and to lobby for stronger legal and administrative measures in response. They bolstered this appeal with references to the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and other international law provisions, including the joint statement by the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the OIC, and the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union in Doha, on 7 February 2006, in which they underscored the need for sensitivity to the issue. [6]

Nevertheless the outlook for the resolution was largely unfavourable for the OIC and its supporting states, as reported widely by media and independent UN monitoring agencies such as the ISHR, which noted:

Diminishing support for the draft resolution ironically followed more open and transparent negotiations this year. Though many states praised the Moroccan-led negotiations, the US deemed the outcome worse in terms of substance from previous years. And despite the EU and US urging states to find common ground through other means than the divisive resolution, the OIC  said it would pursue the issue ‘relentlessly’, including bringing the resolution to the Assembly again next year.[7]

2.3.1 UN Special Procedures on defamation of religions

As noted briefly above, the work of independent experts within the UN has been building an influential body of opinion on the subject of defamation of religions since the concept was first proposed in 1999. The issue has featured prominently in the reports and studies of three Special Rapporteurs in particular: on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; on freedom of religion or belief; and on the promotion and protection of the right of freedom of opinion and expression. Although each has explored the issue in relation to his or her mandate, their findings and opinions have tended to align and overlap in main areas.

i) On the relationship between defamation of religions and the freedom of expression

In 2006, for example, when the defamations resolution was at the height of its support, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief reported on the potential threat to free expression, warning that ‘any attempt to lower the threshold of Article 20… would not only shrink the frontiers of free expression, but also limit freedom of religion or belief itself. Such an attempt could be counterproductive and may promote an atmosphere of religious intolerance’,[8] while in 2008 the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression reiterated that protections within this article relate ‘not only to comfortable, inoffensive or politically correct opinions, but also to ideas that offend, shock and disturb’. He also noted that laws under Article 20(2) should be clearly and narrowly defined, should not intrude on freedom of expression, and should be applied by an independent judiciary.[9] By using Article 20 to draw the parameters of the provisions, the experts who have held three rapporteur positions during the past decade have consistently recommended that they be interpreted in light of Articles 18 and 19 of the ICCPR, as laid out in General Comment 10 from the HRC.[10] Each Special Rapporteur has also expressed concerns – which have been echoed and reinforced by many NGOs – that the terminology and implications of the resolutions on defamation in relation to religion are unclear. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression in particular, has cited concerns that Article 20 is meant to protect individuals, not belief systems.

In 2008 the Special Rapporteur on racism, Githu Mugai, delivered a report by his predecessor Doudou Diene that called on member states to replace ‘defamation’ with the legal concept of ‘incitement to national, racial or religious hatred’, a concept which is already grounded in international legal instruments.[11] Muigai maintained focus on the theme during his tenure, as seen during the Durban Review Conference in which he: ‘reiterate[d] the recommendation of his predecessor to encourage a shift away from the sociological concept of the defamation of religions towards the legal norm of non-incitement to national, racial or religious hatred’.[12] In a second report on the same platform Muigai stressed the need for states to strike a balance between the right to freedom of expression and their moves to counter extremist political parties, movements and groups.[13]

The continuity of this opinion was recently confirmed by the new Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt. In his first interactive dialogue with the GA’s Third Committee in October 2010 he referred to the ‘chilling effect’ that new legal provisions, as urged by OIC representatives, could have on the freedom of expression. The phrase is one used frequently by UN Rapporteurs to express particularly strong concern.

It is important that any limitations on freedom of expression deemed necessary to prohibit incitement to religious hatred be defined with the utmost diligence, precision and precaution. The threshold for any limitations must be very high in order not to have a chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of expression or other human rights. Such precaution is also in the interest of freedom of religion or belief, because a societal atmosphere of openness enhances the chances of dispelling stereotypes and prejudices. At the same time, freedom of religion or belief does not include the right for one’s religion or belief to be free from criticism or all adverse comment.[14]

ii) On religious discourse

Experts serving under those three UN mandates have also shared concerns for the negative impact that the defamation concept may have on religion. Their reports have often concluded with recommendations for states to promote unrestricted dialogue within and among religions.  This is a cause most strongly advocated by the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion, such as the often-made observation by previous mandate-holder Asma Jahangir, that ‘the  recognition, respect and practice of religious pluralism  . . . encompasses criticism, discussion and questioning  of each other’s values’,[15] and that the concept of defamation of religions is dangerous because it can be used to legitimize blasphemy laws that ‘punish members of religious minorities, dissenting believers and non-theists or atheists.’[16]

This position was reflected in the terms of the mandate itself, which was heavily debated before it was renewed at the Human Rights Council in 2010; the changes made upon its renewal have since been referred to by states in various bids to restrict and redirect the mandate holder.[17] Although the terms of the mandate now include the condemnation of incidents of incitement to religious hatred, discrimination, intolerance and violence, as requested by Pakistan, consensus was not found on the calls for the Special Rapporteur to examine incidents of religious intolerance and to ensure respect for places of worship.[18] This is not the only time the debate has been taken into the terms of a Special Rapporteur’s mandate. As noted by a 2008 report from the Quaker United Nations Office:

[A] contentious thematic mandate was the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. This was linked to the question of religion since the controversy revolved around the limits to freedom of expression in relation to religion (ie, the ‘cartoons’ issue).  The mandate was amended by vote (27-13-3) to include reporting ‘abuse of the right to freedom of expression that constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination, taking into account Articles 19(3) and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and General Comment No. 15 of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination… This amendment led to many of the original co-sponsors withdrawing their co-sponsorship: the resolution as amended was adopted by vote (7/36; 32-0-15).[19]

The importance of dialogue among religions has featured in the work of the other Special Rapporteurs. In a report on religious defamation, shortly after the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, Special Rapporteur on racism Doudou Diene urged states to promote dialogue between cultures, civilizations, and religions, and to ensure that any efforts to combat discrimination addressed religions equally.[20] In a joint statement issued a few years later at the Durban Review Conference, Jahangir, Maigui and La Rue warned that to legalise the concepts of defamation and blasphemy would make them more open to abuse.

Whereas some have argued that defamation of religions could be equated to racism, we would like to caution against confusion between a racist statement and an act of ‘defamation of religion’… There are numerous examples of persecution of religious minorities or dissenters, but also of atheists and non-theists, as a result of legislation on religious offences… The right to freedom of expression constitutes an essential aspect of the right to freedom of religion and belief … essential to creating an environment in which a critical discussion about religion can be held. [21]

They later elaborated, at the same session:

Several religions are characterised by truth claims – or even by superiority claims – which have been traditionally accepted as part of their theological grounds. Consequently, the elements that constitute a racist statement may not be the same as those that constitute a statement ‘defaming a religion’ as such. To this extent, the legal measures, and in particular the criminal measures, adopted by national legal systems to fight racism may not necessarily be applicable to defamation of religions.[22]

iii) On religious intolerance

Despite their reluctance to fully support proposals from the OIC member states on defamation of religions, independent experts at the UN have prominently recognised the rise of certain types of negative religious stereotyping in their work, and the need to urgently address this via state policy. For example, in the concluding recommendation of Special Rapporteur on racism, Doudou Diène’s report at the Durban Review Conference Report to the GA on defamation of religions and the implications of Islamophobia, he stresses:

[…] the need to pay particular attention and vigilance to maintain a careful balance between secularism and the respect of freedom of religion. A growing anti-religious culture and rhetoric is a central source of defamation of all religions and discrimination against their believers and practitioners. In this context governments should pay a particular attention to guaranteeing and protecting the places of worship and culture of all religions.[23]

Asma Jahangir has similarly emphasised that although intolerant behaviour does not necessarily constitute a human rights violation it still tends to polarize religious groups and affect social cohesion, and that the judiciary should play a role in assessing whether incidents amount to violations.[24] In her final report as Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion in 2010, she reiterated her opinion that the advocacy of religious hatred should be prohibited by law,[25] and although she consistently defined the parameters of legal action according to the provisions in existing international treaties (noting that she sees them as a positive alternative to blasphemy laws), the Rapporteur recommended that their interpretation be revisited, notably via the HRC’s General Comment No. 11 (1983) on Article 20 of the ICCPR.[26]

However, expressed in this way, the Special Rapporteurs’ support for explorations into defamation as a legal concept has been modest in comparison to the proposals made by OIC member states and their supporters. The past two Special Rapporteurs on racism have promoted further examinations on Article 20 in their reports, stressing that the concept of incitement to religious hatred could be identified within an effective legal framework; they have also, perhaps more robustly, backed the discussions on the development of complementary standards through the CERD.[27] The Special Rapporteur on expression has restricted his recommendations to improving the implementation of existing provisions of the ICCPR and the ICERD.

Like many of the NGOs involved in this debate, the three UN-based experts have united in their call for states to take a holistic approach to the discouragement of hate speech and discrimination, and to draw on education, community and inter-faith dialogue, and initiatives within the media, rather than legislation. In the two latest reports from Githu Maigui, released mid-2010 – one specifically concerned with the implications of Islamophobia – the Special Rapporteur on racism concluded that the most effective way to combat religious intolerance is to implement policy measures that deal with the ‘root causes’ of intolerance, which reflects his predecessor’s opinion in 2007 on ‘the need to complement legal strategies with an intellectual and ethical strategy relating to the processes, mechanisms and representations which constitute those manifestations over time’ due to their ‘historical and cultural depth’.[28] As mentioned, religious intolerance has been an established issue of concern at the UN since a declaration was first drafted on the issue in 1981, and this is regularly renewed;[29] it also frames much of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Religion.[30]

2.3.2. The High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Secretary General

Supporting the work of these three mandates has been that of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (HCHR) and the UN Secretary General (SG) who have initiated various surveys and expert consultations on religious defamation in the latter half of the past decade. A significant contribution by the HCHRs (firstly by Louise Arbour, and from September 2008, Navanethem Pillay) were special studies of laws and practices on defamation as requested by the Human Rights Committee, which in 2006 led to Arbour calling for a unified understanding of incitement norms in the ICCPR and ICERD, due to the lack of clarity on key elements such as the definitions of ‘incitement’, ‘hostility’, and ‘hatred’.[31]  Reporting to the HRC in 2007, the HCHR stressed the need for enhanced cooperation and stronger political will by member states in combating defamation of religions’, and this led to further consultations and reports. A 2008 survey among states led the HCHR to confirm that their understandings of the term ‘defamation’ addressed ‘somewhat different phenomena and appl[ied] various terms such as contempt, ridicule, outrage and disrespect to connote defamation’.[32] The Commissioner’s work has highlighted the grey areas that remain between the criticism of religion, the persecution of religious persons and the concept of religious defamation.

The call for holistic measures has been recently amplified meanwhile, by the SG, who rather than recommending legal responses to defamation, has chosen to root the debate in the wider theme of religious intolerance, and to back recommendations by UN Independent Experts.[33] In a July 2009 report to the GA the SG noted that ‘[i]n order to tackle the root causes of intolerance, a much broader set of policy measures needs to be addressed covering the areas of intercultural dialogue as well as education for tolerance and diversity’. This call for holistic measures has boosted the UN’s attempt to address the issue of religious intolerance via a global programme of seminars and workshops such as one held in June 2009 entitled ‘Unlearning Intolerance’ which addressed the dangers of ‘cyberhate’ and ‘digital demonisation’.[34] The SG’s report on defamation listed the interaction of the HCHR with the issue in various fora during the past few years, such as a press release expressing regret at Switzerland’s ban on minarets, and an address expressing concern at the discriminatory nature of profiling at the Counter Terrorism Committee of the Security Council.  He and the HCHR have also noted that jurisprudence has also been building in the Human Rights Committee regarding the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and ICERD, and the latest report of the HCHR features various cases taken by claimants alleging incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Although most claims have failed, there have been dissenting opinions.[35]

2.3.3 The Durban Review Conference and the Ad Hoc Group

As well as being reflected in the language of UN resolutions, this body of opinion has been influential in the drafting of other reports, such as the Outcome Document of the April 2009 Durban Review Conference and the Draft Resolution on the right to freedom of expression, co-sponsored by the USA and Egypt and passed later that same year.[36]  Both saw the marked softening of language relating to incitements and defamation proposed by the OIC, instead invoking terms such as ‘negative stereotyping’, drawn from the ICCPR. UN experts, among them the Special Rapporteur on racism and the HCHR, have opined that the consensus reached in the Outcome Document was a satisfying balance, reaffirming both the importance of freedom of expression and the need to curb hate speech. The HCHR has recommended that the language of the document be used by policymakers to define domestic measures.[37] Nevertheless the Outcome Document was recognised as having given particular weight to the issue in the eight references it made to incitement, and in the Intergovernmental Working Group that was established at the close of the conference to look into the content and scope of a possible Optional Protocol to the ICERD, and which gave rise to the Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards. Although its meeting in late 2009 was reported as being more constructive than its first session, progress was minor, and EU states continue to oppose OIC states on the need for complementary standards. A third meeting planned for the end of 2010 has been postponed until early 2011.

2.3.4. General Comment 34 on Article 19

This debate continues among the drafting committee members of the Human Rights Committee’s General Comment No. 34 on Article 19 of the ICCPR (hereafter General Comment 34), to further safeguard the right to freedom of opinion and expression.[38] The first draft, completed in October 2010, discusses the acceptable limitations on the right to expression, stressing that to criminalise the holding of an opinion violates human rights norms. In general terms, draft General Comment 34 notes that any limitations must be justified and with proof of a clear threat, that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for any form of defamation and that all such criminal laws should be repealed unless they are applicable under Article 20. It also draws attention to anti-discrimination content in the Committee’s General Comment No. 22, urging states to base their action ‘on principles not deriving exclusively from a single tradition’ when citing actions taken in the protection of morals.[39] The committee is brief in its reference to blasphemy, listing the international legal limitations on its criminalisation without further interpretation, and stressing that any criminal law provisions that do not comply with Article 20 should be repealed. It does note that blasphemy laws should apply to adherents of all religions equally, and should not be used to prevent commentary on religious doctrine.

General Comments are a way for the UN committees to assist and promote the article of the covenant, ease conflicts of interpretation and highlight de facto insufficiencies that may have come to light in reports to the body, and are cited by organisations and in judicial decisions.[40] As it stands, General Comment 34 reflects agreement with the recommendations made by UN independent experts and a lack of support for moves to prohibit forms of defamation relating to religion. However this language will likely be challenged, and may see some change when the draft is put to state parties in 2011.

[1]    The Becket Fund, ‘UN efforts to pass a Binding International Blasphemy Law, 2010’,Spring 2010, www.becketfund.org/files/international%20blaspemy%20memo.pdf.

[2]    HRC, Res. 13/16, 15 April 2010, A/HRC/RES/13/16, in favour: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and South Africa (20). Against: Argentina, Belgium, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay and Zambia (17). Abstaining: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cameroon, Ghana, India, Japan, Madagascar and Mauritius (8). Angola and Gabon were absent at the vote.

[3]    ISHR ‘Human Rights Council: changing dynamics on ‘defamation of religions’, April 14, 2010, http://www.ishr.ch/archive-council/735-human-rights-council-changing-dynamics-on-defamation-of-religions.

[4]    GA, 23 November 2010, GA/SHC/4001.

[5]    Ibid.

[6]    GA, Res. 61/49, 12 February 2006, A/RES/61/49.

[7]    ISHR, ‘Support for ‘defamation of religion’ continues to decline; draft resolution passes by only 12 votes’, 25 November 2010, http://www.ishr.ch/general-assembly/964-support-for-defamation-of-religion-continues-to-decline-draft-resolution-passes-by-only-12-votes.

[8]    HRC, 20 September 2006, A/HRC/2/3, para 50.

[9]    HRC, 28 February 2008, A/HRC/7/14, para 66.

[10]  ICCPR General Comment No. 10: Freedom of expression (Art. 19), 29 June 1983.

[11]  HRC, 1 July 2009, A/HRC/12/38.

[12]  Ibid, para 7.

[13]  HRC, 16 April 2010, A/HRC/14/45.

[14]  A statement by Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief,  65th session of the General Assembly, Third Committee,  21 October 2010.

[15]  HRC, 20 September 2006, A/HRC/2/3, para 65.

[16]  GA, 20 August 2007, A/62/280.

[17]  HRC Res. 14/11, 23 June 2010, A/HRC/RES/14/11.

[18]  These terms were brought up in the 2010 interactive dialogues with the special procedures on racism and on freedom of religion and belief at the Third Committee, in which Ms. Jahangir’s understanding of the defamations concept was critcised and her successor reminded of the new terms of his mandate by Pakistan.

[19]  Quaker United Nations Office: Digging Foundations or Trenches? UN Human Rights Council: Year 2, August  2008.

[20]  GA, 21 August 2007, A/HRC/6/6.

[21]  Read by the Rapporteurs at a UN-organised side-event at the Durban Review Conference, 22 April 2009.

[22]  Joint statement by the three Special Rapporteurs in summarising the conclusions of the 2008 OHCHR ‘Expert Seminar on the Links between Articles 19 and 20 of the ICCPR’, convened by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 22 April 2009.

[23]  HRC, 21 August 2007, A/HRC/6/6, para 78.

[24]  In the Rapporteur’s report to the HRC at its tenth session in 2009.

[25]  GA, 29 July 2010, A/65//207.

[26]  GA, 20 August 2007, A/62/280; HRC, 7 February 2008, A/HRC/7/10/Add.3.

[27]  ,HRC, 2 September 2009, A/HRC/9/12.

[28]  GA, 21 August 2007, A/HRC/6/6 , para 78

[29]  Such as Resolution 64/164 adopted in the Human Rights Council on 17 March 2010.

[30]  The mandate title was originally UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, and was changed to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief by the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN General Assembly in 2000.

[31]  HRC, 20 September 2006, A/HRC/2/6.

[32]  HRC,12 September 2008, A/HRC/9/7, para 67; see also HRC, 5 September 2008, A/HRC/9/25.

[33]  GA, 31 July 2009, A/64/209.

[34]  These and others are listed in the report of the UN HCHR on ‘The implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 10/22 entitled ‘Combating defamation of religions’, HRC, 11 January 2010 A/HRC/13/57.

[35]  Ibid. The report refers to cases such as Vassilariat al  V. Greece, Communication No. 1570/2007, CCPR/C/95/D/1570/2007 (2009);  and Kasem Said Ahmad and Asmaa Abdol-Hamid v. Denmark, Communication No. 1487/2006, which both invoked Article 20 of the ICCPR.

[36]  See Sections 1 and 2.2

[37]  HRC, 1 July 2009, A/HRC/12/38.

[38]  HRC, 25 November 2010, CCPR/C/GC/34/CRP.5.

[39]  UN CCPR General Comment No. 22, ‘ The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art. 18)’, adopted   on 30 June 1993, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4.

[40]  Boyle, ‘Soft Law in International Law-making’ in Evans (ed) International law, Oxford University Press, Oxford; New York: 2006

The arts are a traveller's window into the heart of San Francisco

The arts are a traveller

South China Morning Post, August 2012.

San Francisco has always had an acute sense of the frontier, and this can be said for its arts scene as well as for its gung-ho economy.

As a gold rush town, it was unusually cosmopolitan. In the mid-1800s it hosted up to 37 foreign consuls and boasted newspapers and theatre productions in at least five languages. By the time Mark Twain turned up in the 1860s, the city was a blur of bohemian activity, with strip after strip of saloons, boarding houses, dance halls, brothels and theatres.

During the next century, this bohemia fell victim to industry and the power of the American puritans; it is no coincidence that its architecture is so frothily Victorian. But its role as an artistic frontier somehow survived and ‘heading west’ has brought out the best in many writers since – from Jack London and Jack Kerouac to Isabel Allende and Amy Tan.

For anyone wanting to get a real sense of the place – after the trips to Alcatraz and a few laps of the bridge – there is scarcely a better angle from which to view it.

Once the counter-cultural hub of the Beat scene – the radical 1950s art movement of jazz, booze and ‘free thoughts’ – North Beach rubs shoulders with Chinatown and is defined by its homey European cafes, jazz dens and gelato stands. The Beat Museum, which opened in September, is a great place to start, especially on a Saturday morning when it holds its walking tours.

Converted rather haphazardly from a travelling exhibition, the museum needs a little spit and polish, but you will be pushed to find better memorabilia. Keep an eye out for the Beat pad mock-up, the annotated works of Howl by Alan Ginsburg and the screening of avant-garde films from the era.

A wander outside will take you to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights, the original Beat publishing house and still one of the city’s favourite independent bookstores. It also published Howl – a vehement, emotionally raw poem that changed the way literature was received in the United States. Handwritten signs and scattered chairs beckon. ‘Welcome, have a seat and read a book,’ one bids. Another says: ‘Free the press from its corporate owners!’

Next to City Lights on the aptly named Jack Kerouac Alley sits Vesuvio, another old Beat haunt. This snug two-storey bar serves the local literati and is still infused with a ’50s spirit, sans the fashionable fog of tobacco. The bar will begrudgingly offer you the Kerouac special: rum, tequila, orange/cranberry juice and lime served. But no absinthe.

A further stroll takes in the quirky Hotel Boheme, the Purple Onion (where Maya Angelou used to sing and dance before she became an author), 12 Adler Alley, where the word beatnik was born, and other relics and tributes to a movement that, as Beat Museum founder Jerry Cimino said, ‘was the most tolerant, compassionate and inclusive of them all … that told people to do what they love and then watch the world follow’.

The Ritual Roasters Cafe in the Mission is a sea of laptop-lit faces, all oblivious to the chai lattes that grow cold beside them. Local novelist K.M. Soehnlein said: ‘This is very much the situation in San Francisco. People writing their novels and screenplays on their laptops … I’m much more inclined to be the kind of writer who would sit in a noisy cafe to work, to feel the pulse of a lot of strangers and music.’

Outside, Valencia Street is a strip of ethnic restaurants, thrift stores, smoke shops and bars. It is also home to the largest contingent of independent bookstores in the city and is an incredible place to browse.

Modern Times is one of the more progressive hubs in the community, with large sections on globalisation, politics and gender, most of which reflect the Bay Area’s leftist credentials. Borderlands Books and Dog Eared Books are both eclectic and welcoming, the former known for its science fiction, the latter for its ‘zines (the quirky paper forefathers of the blog). Most of these places boast heaving events calendars as notable authors and activists do the rounds.

The bars are also involved in the literary scene. Writers With Drinks is a monthly reading set presented by irreverent transsexual and magazine publisher Charlie Anders at the Make Out Room, while Dalva and Sadie’s Flying Circus has regular, boozy word sessions. Expect writers that range from local upstarts to published authors Michelle Tea or Kirk Read. Other points of interest are Intersection for the Arts – a venue with a great programme of alternative performances and 826 Valencia; a charitable tutoring centre set up by best-selling author and literary titan Dave Eggers.

Though the back area of 826 is set aside for teaching, it is a good hub for lit-mags and a browse around the random Pirate supplies shop that fronts the venue.

While these districts are two of the most vibrant in San Francisco, there are literary snippets to be found across the city. The public library offers a free downtown tour of the haunts of Dashiell Hammett – father of the American detective novel and writer of the Maltese Falcon – and other hints for true relic hunters.

However, the contemporary scene is more rewarding, with its influence even cracking the financial district. During the week, corporate types get their fix from the lunchtime reading series at Stacey’s Bookstore and among the industrial innards of Varnish – a chic gallery, wine bar and literary venue. Then there is the warm woods and rich malts of the Edinburgh Castle – Irvine Welsh’s venue of choice when in town – and the monthly gig at Hayes Valley’s punky Rickshaw Stop.

San Francisco will always have plenty to offer, and this is just one way to take its pulse. But it is in this scene, in particular, that the city spirit is distilled and made unique. ‘Reading feels like an endangered activity,’ Soehnlein said. ‘More people spend time programming their iPods and watching YouTube than sitting quietly and reading, so it’s valuable that in a city like San Francisco you can just immerse yourself in this world. It’s a kind of salvation.

Update: Presenting ‘Defamation of Religions’ research at the UN HRCouncil

Update: Presenting ‘Defamation of Religions’ research at the UN HRCouncil

Defamations of Religion, HRC, Mar 2011

I joined NGO and OHCHR staff to present research at the panel, ‘Evolution of the recent debate on defamation of religions‘, on behalf of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), and the SOAS Human Rights Clinic, during the 16th UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.  The study (available here in full, co-written with Julia Alfandari and Regula Atteya) charts the development of discourse on religious defamation at the United Nations, and analyses blasphemy cases in Pakistan, Syria and Algeria using the international human rights legal framework.  It has been published by the Social Science Research Network , and was well used by NGOs and delegates at the Session in the lead up to a groundbreaking draft resolution that better preserved the right to free expression. The resolution was pronounced a ‘landmark’ by then-US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton.

Other panelists included the Director of the Human Rights Treaties Division at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Ibrahim Salama ; Pakistan MP, Bushra Gohar; and Senior Legal Officer at ARTICLE 19, Sejal Parmar. The event was sponsored by the CIHRS, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights and ARTICLE 19.


Case Studies: The use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan

Case Studies: The use of blasphemy laws in Pakistan

This is part of my contribution to ‘Defamation of Religions: International Developments and Challenges on the Ground‘, published by the Social Science Research Network, for the Cairo Institute on Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).


The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has a majority Muslim population, and has passed some of the world’s strictest national laws on blasphemy and the defamation of religion. Its provisions are established in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), its Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and its constitution. Many of these provisions were introduced or strengthened between 1977 and 1988 during the reign of military dictator Zia ul-Haq, known for his ‘Islamisation’ of the country, mostly under martial law.[1] Under General Zia, Shari’a Benches were established in the high courts and the Supreme Court (which had the jurisdiction to examine the compliance of domestic laws with Islamic law, even if no complaint was brought before them), and new ordinances reset the parameters of punishment for various offences, including expressions of disrespect to Islamic symbols, the prophet Muhammad, and his family members and companions.[2] One ordinance in particular, Ordinance XX of 1984, amended the PPC to single out the unorthodox Muslim minority group, the Ahmadis, for particular punishment should they ‘outrage the religious feelings of [Pakistan’s mainstream] Muslims’.[3] Few amendments have been made since, and attempts to do so have been met with strong and often aggressive opposition from the state’s powerful conservative religious organisations, as mentioned later in this report. Non-Muslim judges are rare in Pakistan, although there have been exceptions, such as the appointment of Hindu acting Chief Justice of Pakistan, Rana Bhagwandas, in 2007 (now retired) and of a Christian high court judge, Jamshaid Rehmatullah, in 2009.[4]

The following section gives an overview of Pakistan’s laws on religious defamation and blasphemy, including recent amendments, and aspects of the national debate on the repeal of the legislation. It will then examine the use of these laws in five recent cases, while analysing the extent to which the freedom of expression and other fundamental rights and freedoms are protected. The section aims to identify whether Pakistan’s laws comply or conflict with its obligations under international human rights law.


The Constitution

Blasphemy laws in the PPC are constitutionally supported by a number of articles in the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan among them Article 2, which declares that ‘Islam shall be the state religion of Pakistan’ and Article 31 which provides for an ‘Islamic way of life’. [5] It should be noted that Article 33, though brief, requires that ‘the state shall discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens.

The Penal Code 1860 and the Criminal Procedure Code 1898

The PPC lays down the nature of offences under the law, along with their punishments, while the CrPC is largely procedural, providing machinery for the punishment. The two codes are read together.

Chapter XV of the PPC relates to ‘offences relating to religion’ and two of its articles cover blasphemy and defamation of Islam: 295 addresses the defiling or ‘defaming’ of sacred texts, symbols or persons, with each crime defined by the wrongdoer’s action and intent. Article 295-C, however, specifically reserves the harshest punishment against those who make derogatory remarks against the Prophet; Article 298 governs derogatory remarks against persons holding religious office, and the misuse or ‘misrepresentation’ of the faith, particularly by non Orthodox Muslims.[6]

They read as follows:

295-A. Injuring or defiling place of worship, with Intent to insult the religion of any class:
Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction damage or defilement as an insult to their religion shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

295-B. Defiling, etc, of copy of Holy Quran:

Whoever will fully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Quran or of an extract there from or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable for imprisonment for life.

295-C. Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet:

Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

298. Uttering words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings:

Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.
298-A. Use of derogatory remarks, etc…, in respect of holy personages:

Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles a sacred name of any wife (Ummul Mumineen), or members of the family (Ahle-bait), of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), or any of the righteous caliphs (Khulafa-e-Rashideen) or companions (Sahaaba) of the Holy Prophet description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Misuse of epithet, descriptions and titles, etc. Reserved for certain holy personages or places.

Any person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis or by any other name) who by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation:

refers to or addresses, any person, other than a Caliph or companion of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), as “Ameerul Momneen”, “Khalifat-ul-Momneen”, “Khalifat-ul-Muslimeen”, “Sahaabi” or “Razi Allah Anho”;

refers to or addresses, any person, other than a wife of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), as Ummul-Mumineen;

refers to, or addresses, any person, other than a member of the family (Ahle-Bait) of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), as Ahle-Bait; or

refers to, or addresses, any person, other than a member of the family (Ahle-Bait) of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), as Ahle-Bait; or

refers to, or names, or calls, his place of worship as Masjid; shall be punished with imprisonment or either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Any person of the Qadiani group or Lahore group, (who call themselves Ahmadis or by any other names), who by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, refers to the mode or from of call to prayers followed by his faith as “Azan” or redites Azan as used by the Muslims, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which

may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

298-C. Persons of Qadiani group, etc, calling himself a Muslim or preaching or propagating his faith:
Any person of the Qadiani group or the Lahori group (who call themselves Ahmadis or any other name), who directly or indirectly, posses himself as a Muslim, or calls, or refers to, his faith as Islam, or preaches or propagates his faith, or invites others to accept his faith, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or in any manner whatsoever outrages the religious feelings of Muslims, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.[7]

International Treaties

Pakistan holds a seat on the UN Human Rights Committee and has ratified most of the core international human rights treaties. It newly ratified the ICCPR in June 2010, though with reservations which declare that the provisions of Articles 3, 6, 7, 18 and 19 shall be applied to the extent that they are not repugnant to the provisions of the Constitution of Pakistan and the Shari’a laws. It did not ratify the Optional Protocol. Pakistan is also party to the ICERD, the Convention Against Torture (CAT; also recently acceded to in June 2010), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).[8]



In October 1990 the Federal Shari’a Court (FSC), which rules on the conformity of laws with the injunctions of Islam, ruled that Section 295-C of the PPC was repugnant to the religion because it did not deliver the death penalty for acts of contempt against the Prophet. The FSC ruled that 295-C would be amended by the ruling unless the president took action to have the law amended by April of the following year.[9] The only appeal to the Supreme Court, by a Christian bishop in 1990, was addressed and dismissed by the Shari’a Appellate Bench of the court in 2009 because the appellant was no longer alive. The death sentence thus stands, however no judicial executions have yet taken place under this law due to a combination of delay, appeals, and pardons. [10] Since his election President Zardari has made use of his constitutionally authorised power to pardon accused persons, and he and his party, The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are seen as moderately sympathetic to religious minorities. However as noted by critics, [11] the arbitrary use of presidential pardons is no replacement for the repeal of weak or discriminatory laws, and should by no means be used as a legal safeguard.[12]

There have been various attempts to lighten this sentence since, due to claims – detailed in the analysis and cases below – that they are frequently misused, yet these have been met by fierce and largely effective political and popular resistance from powerful conservative religious organisations (as has the use of presidential pardons). One criminal law amendment was successfully passed in 2004, which increased the responsibility of the police to investigate the legitimacy of a charge under 295-C.[13] Under this amendment no case of blasphemy can be legally filed without a thorough investigation by an officer ranking no lower than the superintendent of police [see Annex I]. [14]


According to data collected by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP),[15] a human rights body patronised by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference, at least 964 persons have been charged with violating these anti-blasphemy clauses between 1986 and August 2009 in Pakistan, while more than 30 such persons were killed extra-judicially.[16] Approximately half of those charged were minorities – Christian, Hindu and Ahmadi – which only make up about 3% of the population, [17] leading to the strong and often cited accusations that the laws are used as a tool of persecution by civilians and officials. The law has been criticised for being too general and requiring too little proof, with procedures that are disproportionate to the severity of the sentence, and little regulation to ensure that correct procedures are followed. Extreme concerns have been put forward from minority rights defenders, including NGOS such as Human Rights Watch and experts within the UN.[18] While visiting Pakistan in 1995, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief declared: ‘[…] blasphemy as an offence against belief may be subject to special legislation. However, such legislation should not be discriminatory and should not give rise to abuse. Nor should it be so vague to jeopardize human rights especially those of minorities’[19] Similarly, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in response to a Pakistan state party report in 2009, ‘expressed its concern about reported infringements of the right to freedom of religion and the risk that blasphemy laws may be used in a discriminatory manner against religious minority groups, who may also be members of ethnic minorities’ and ‘recalled state party’s obligations on freedom of thought, conscience and religion’.[20]

However many non-minority Muslims have begun to be accused and jailed via this law, often amid claims of personal grievance and property disputes (which also often accompany minority cases).  In media reports from 2010 the Federal Minister for Human Rights, Syed Mumtaz Alam Gilani, reported an increase in Muslims using the laws to settle scores with fellow Muslims while chairperson Dr. Mehdi Hasan of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an NGO, has said that around 80% of blasphemy charges are false and have arisen ‘because of property issues or other personal or family vendetta’.[21] This was a major reason for the 2004 amendment to the criminal law cited above, which places stricter conditions on arrest procedures for blasphemy. Yet human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the AHRC claim that these are rarely observed, and that police officers continue to bow to pressure from religious conservatives, particularly in rural areas, as indicated by the cases listed below.[22]

Finally it is important to know that vigilantism is of extreme concern in the Pakistan context, as demonstrated in the number of extra judicial deaths and unprosecuted murders of persons on trial for blasphemy, often during mob violence. As previously mentioned, at least 30 persons connected with cases of blasphemy have been murdered since 1986. This challenges one of the main arguments in support of the amendment of 295-C: that it would prevent private citizens from taking the law into their own hands and killing blasphemy suspects.[23] State protection for suspected blasphemers is often inadequate and although they are routinely detained in separate cells to protect them from cell mates, several people accused of blasphemy have been killed in jail. The death toll has also included relatives of the accused and even members of the judiciary involved in blasphemy cases. NGOs report that those who have served sentences or been acquitted of blasphemy charges are usually forced into hiding, or will claim asylum (Ahmadis make up a substantial proportion of successful asylum claims from Pakistan, often on claims of religious persecution). Impunity is common for Muslim civilians or police officers who harass, threaten or harm persons accused of blasphemy, and the slandering of blasphemy victims by other civilians, even when illegal – such as cases in which the loud speakers of Mosques are illegally used, or when death threats are published in newspapers – receives little or no attention from police, though they commonly precede deadly attacks.[24]


i. Current developments

In November 2010 parliamentarian Shehrbano ‘SherryRehman proposed the Amendments to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010 in the National Assembly of Pakistan, citing Article 25 of the Pakistan Constitution, which aims for equal protection of all citizens under the law. [25] The Act details sweeping, strong amendments to the two statutory codes, the PPC and CrPC, which would firstly lighten the penalties of blasphemy, and secondly, increase the responsibility of the complainant and allow for the punishment of ‘those making false or frivolous allegations’ under section 295’ or who give rise to ‘any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination or violence an offence.’ Expressing concerns about the strength of Pakistan’s Session Courts, Rehman also suggested that complaints be tried by high courts to ‘strengthen the possibility for justice… under a higher degree of public scrutiny.’[26] Other amendments include the suggestion that a ten-year sentence be reduced to two years under Section 295-A, and that imprisonment to life be reduced to a sentence of up to five years or a fine.[27]

Rehman proposes that the amendments will act as a safeguard against the misuse of the laws, and ensure the protection of Pakistan’s minorities and ‘vulnerable citizens, who routinely face judgments and verdicts at the lower courts where mob pressure is often mobilized to obtain a conviction’. She also used, as further justification, the fact that the laws were ‘man-made’ and introduced via ‘a dictator’s Ordinance, without parliamentary consultation or public debate.’ [28] Ordinances in Pakistan are temporary legal devices.

In November 2010, the Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti announced that although the repeal of the laws was not being considered, ‘we are considering changing it so that misuse of the law should be stopped.’ [29] However in early December, member of parliament, Aziz Baig, submitted a citizen’s petition which argued that lawmakers did not have the constitutional right to amend laws that related to religion, and Judge Khwaja Mohammad Sharif has ordered the bill to be frozen while the court assesses the legislative authority of parliament over blasphemy laws.[30] The response from many of the country’s orthodox religious groups has also been extremely strong, with ten religious parties organizing a nationwide protest against any possible amendment of the blasphemy laws, in December 2010.[31] Rehman herself has been named in various fatwas since she proposed the amendment to the Act.[32]

Although human rights and minorities rights advocates have welcomed the move to amend the laws, the proposed reforms do not extend to the explicit criminalisation of Ahmadi activities (298-B and C). Furthermore many argue that repealing the laws will not be enough to ensure lasting change. As one commentator, journalist and documentary film maker Beena Sarwar opined in an article published by the AHRC:

The fanatical and misguided mindset cultivated over the past few decades will not disappear by simply repealing 295-C, although this must be done. Embarking on a sensible education policy is also a long-term step that must be taken to stop the rot …The political leadership is responsible for providing police with the training, means and the orders to prevent such violence.[33]


3.1.4. CASES

A. The case of Aasia Bibi

Ms. Aasia Bibi, 45, of Ittan Wali in Sheikhpura district, Punjab province, was sentenced to death by a district and session court judge in Nankana on 8 November 2010 on charges of committing blasphemy in violation of Section 295-B and 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code; she was also fined Rs300,000.[34] Aasia is a Christian and the case has been strongly taken up by Christian and other minority activists in campaigning against the misuse of the blasphemy laws, as well as by orthodox Muslims who support it.[35] The Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated on 4 January 2010 allegedly due to his public support of her case and opposition to blasphemy laws, as detailed in the following section.

The defendant, an allegedly illiterate farm worker and part of the only Christian family in her village, was accused of having defamed the Prophet Muhammad on 14 June 2009 in front of Muslim neighbours. According to details of the case as reported widely in the media, the women were involved in a dispute over the collection of water, as well as a small but longer running property dispute.[36] Five days after the incident a local Muslim leader, Qari Salim, began to publicly announce that Aasia had committed blasphemy, and reportedly used the loudspeakers of his mosque to disseminate this judgement and incite a vigilante attack, which though illegal, was not responded to by police.[37] Following this, Aasia alleged that she was badly beaten by other civilians in the village.[38] Although she was initially taken by the Saddar police into protective custody from the scene of the beating, charges of blasphemy (295 B and C) were filed against her in a First Information Report (FIR; a procedural requirement for a criminal case to proceed to court) on 19 June 2010 by the Imam, and no action was taken against her assailants. Aasia has since claimed that she did not meet with any lawyers in jail, and was not accompanied by a lawyer on the day of her verdict.[39]

On 1 November 2010, after Aasia had been in remand (mostly at a prison in Sheikhupura) for more than a year, Judge Naveed Iqbal at the court of Sheikhupura, Punjab, “totally ruled out” the possibility of false implication, saw “no mitigating circumstances”, and sentenced her to death by hanging, also imposing a fine of the equivalent to US$1,100.[40] Her lawyer, SK Shahid, filed an appeal at the Lahore High Court on 19 November and requested a pardon from the Office of the President; President Asif Ali Zardari reportedly asked for a review of the facts of the case from the Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti. [41]On 29 November Khawaja Mohammad Sharif, the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, issued an interim order ruling that while the matter is pending before it, the president may not issue a pardon for Asia Bibi.[42]

Critics such as the AHRC have noted that the case relied only upon Muslim witnesses for the prosecution, and that the investigation was carried out by a low ranking Assistant Sub-Inspector, rather than at least a Superintendent of Police (SP), as required by criminal procedural law since 2004.[43] Pakistan’s National Commission on the Status of Women has also expressed shock over the sentence. Referring to the claim, by Aasia’s lawyers, that the ‘eyewitnesses’ were not present at the time of the allegedly blasphemous incident, Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab Minister of Law, stated that ‘in cases like this of false witnesses, once proof of bad faith has been established, the same penalty should be imposed as that suffered by the innocent victims of false charges.’[44]

Aasia is currently in isolation in Sheikhupura prison, facing threats against her life inside and outside of the prison. Asylum has reportedly been offered to her by the Canadian and Italian governments.[45]

Additional information:
An aggressive public campaign in support of a guilty verdict and death sentence was waged outside the court house throughout the trial, reportedly led by Qari Yaqub, of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (which DOHI News and other media sources have reported as being blacklisted by the UN for suspected terrorist links); this involved the public offer of a reward by a Muslim cleric for the defendant’s assassination, which was widely carried by media but reportedly not credibly investigated by police.[46] At least one daily national newspaper, Nawa-i-Waqt has written an editorial in support of his proposal.[47] It has been reported that representatives of religious organisation Aalmi Majlas-e-Tahuffuz-e-Khatm-e-Nabuat (AMTKN) have threatened the government with a countrywide protest if the accused is shown any clemency by the presidency, and if there are any moves to amend the blasphemy laws.[48]

Critics of the decision, among them the AHRC and Asma Jahangir, who is president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and the former UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, have noted that the judge in this case appeared to be courting popularity with his comments throughout the hearing and the verdict.[49] The late Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, initially met Aasia in jail after her sentencing and assured her that he would take her case before the president of Pakistan, advocating her pardon. He then reported harassment by pro-blasphemy law groups such as the country’s most influential Sunni Muslim alliance, the Sunni Ittehad Council,[50] shortly before his assassination on 4 January in Lahore; he is the most high profile figure to be murdered in Pakistan since former leader Benazir Bhutto was killed, and is believed to have been killed by a member of his state appointed security team because of his public stand against the blasphemy laws.[51] His death has sparked both angry riots and strong messages of public support; Time Magazine reports that a Facebook fan page was set up for his suspected killer shortly after the incident. When Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, raised the issue six months ago, he also claims that he was threatened with death.[52] Debates within the provincial assembly of Punjab have reportedly given a greater platform for rhetoric that supports Section 295 of the PPC, and much less space for dissenting opinion.[53] This mirrors the path of the blasphemy laws themselves, as recently noted by local news editor, Qurat ul ain Siddiqui who states that:with the international community ramping up pressure on the government to pardon Aasia and to eventually repeal the blasphemy laws, certain otherwise antagonistic clerics from the Barelvi and Deobandi schools of thought have come together to caution President Asif Ali Zardari over going ahead with the pardon saying the move may lead to “untoward repercussions”.’[54] The defendant’s husband and children went into hiding after having been chased, harassed and threatened in their community, and have not been provided with protection from the state.[55]

The path of this case demonstrates the distinct lack of safeguards in place in Pakistan, throwing the chance of a fair trial for a minority defendant into severe doubt – namely due to the failure to protect the judiciary, lawyers and policy makers from popular pressure and any accompanying aggression. Although as of January 2011 the defendant has been imprisoned in isolation in remand prison for her safety, she remains extremely vulnerable, as do her family. By failing to legally address the mob violence perpetrated against Aasia Bibi, to investigate the public calls for her death by individuals and in the media, or to arrange for official state protection for her family, the state is being seen to extend impunity for these crimes, which will serve to encourage vigilante attacks against accused blasphemers and minorities. By doing so Pakistan fails in its positive obligations under the ICCPR and other international instruments to prevent, punish and protect citizens from discrimination and religious persecution, as detailed in the conclusion to this section. [56]

B. The case of Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel

Rashid and Sajid Emmanuel were shot dead by unknown assailants on the grounds of a Faisalabad courthouse in Punjab on 19 July 2010 during their trial on blasphemy charges, while in handcuffs and in police custody.  The men, members of the minority Christian community, had been assigned minimal police protection despite the escalating violence of riots in the area that had called for their execution.  The case became a rallying cry for Christian and minority rights activists, many calling for the repeal of the blasphemy laws.

Rashid Emmanuel, 32, was a pastor and his younger brother was an MBA student; both men were Christian and lived in a largely Christian community, Daud Nagar in Warispura. On 2 July Rashid was arrested by at least ten uniformed policemen and taken to the Civil Lines Police Station, where he was accused of having published a four-page handwritten pamphlet that criticised Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.[57] The photocopy that he was shown appeared to bear his and his younger brother’s signatures along with their personal details, including their cell phone and national identity card numbers.[58] A complaint had been filed at the station by a Mohammad Khurram Shehzad, a local printer, who reported to have seen the brothers handing out the pamphlets. On this basis the police officers immediately filed an FIR.[59] However the correct procedure was not followed by the Civil Lines police, who since the revision of the procedure under the blasphemy laws in 2004, are obliged to have any blasphemy complaints thoroughly investigated by a superintendent before the filing of an FIR.[60] A sub inspector and an assistant superintendent had been assigned to this case.  When a local leader of the Christian community challenged this, he reported that he was told by the Station House Officer (SHO) that the rules had been relaxed due to pressure from conservative religious groups in the area.[61]

On 3 July the police took Rashid to the Anti Terrorist Court (ATC) for police remand. The ATC  did not have jurisdiction over the crime; the case was therefore refused and he was taken to duty magistrate Mr. Aamir Habib in the Civil Lines jurisdiction.[62] Habib agreed to his two-day remand in police custody, despite the breach of procedure.[63] During this time Sajid Emmanuel, 30, voluntarily submitted to police detention in the presence of a Bishop Joseph Couetts of Faisalabad (as a safeguard against the abuse of police power). Handwriting samples were taken, but the Lahore-based experts brought into the case stated that they could not assess the original evidence because they were photocopied.  According to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), during the court proceedings the investigating officer told the court that there was no evidence of blasphemy by the brothers, and that therefore the police had no cause to further remand them in custody. Despite the apparent danger, the court ordered that the two men be held in judicial custody until another court appearance in which further orders would be issued.[64]

The brothers reported threats from co-detainees while in detention. Greater threats were issued from outside the prison where groups of organised orthodox Muslim activists began hold marches against the brothers, and later against all Christians in the area. These escalated into street violence and riots, which appear to have been slowly and inadequately addressed by officials in the town, as detailed below. Despite calls for greater protection for the brothers from local concern groups and wider national and regional NGOs, both were fatally shot by unknown assailants as they emerged from the courthouse on 19 July 2010. One officer was also shot and critically injured.[65]

According to local media reports, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in Punjab suspended both Muhammad Haneef, the Superintendent of the Police (Investigation Branch), and the Deputy Superintendent of the Police due to their ‘failure maintain law and order’, and Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani personally phoned the Chief Minister of Punjab for an appraisal of the situation.[66]On 22 July the  Chief Justice of Lahore High Court, Khawaja Mohammad Sharif, took the exceptional step of suo moto action, ordering a judicial inquiry on the request of the Punjab government, to be submitted to the high court, and appointing a district and sessions judge of the Labour Court in Faisalabad, Sheikh Muhammad Yousaf, as the inquiry judge.[67] In a report to the Chief Justice, Regional Police Officer Faisalabad Aftab Ahmad Cheema admitted that police officers had been negligent despite directions to ensure adequate security for the detainees.[68] This was later supported by documents obtained by national newspaper, The Dawn, including reports from various meetings between the RPO, the district intelligence Committee and the Police Commissioner to discuss the gravity of the case, ensure adequate security and avoid sectarian violence, promising ‘all possible measures’.[69] The meetings also reportedly discussed the consequences of a poor investigation into the case on the community.
Additional Information:

Therefore despite decisions taken by high ranking officers to protect the Emmanuel brothers and conduct a credible investigation into the blasphemy charges against them, the detainees were still not afforded adequate protection, nor were they speedily acquitted. This case exposes the challenges of adequately administrating the blasphemy laws and preventing its abuse, particularly in areas of frequent sectarian conflict.

Faisalabad is the third largest city in Pakistan, after Karachi and Lahore, and is well within the reach and influence of senior law enforcers and policy makers, yet remains a place in which politicians inflame ethnic tensions, and where religious minorities regularly experience high profile persecution yet are afforded minimal protection in the face of mainstream hostility.[70] The city has one of the country’s largest Christian communities, with approximately 100,000 Christians living in the Warispura slum.[71]

As noted by the AHRC and local NGO and media commentators, the security provisions for the two men were minimal: just three police officials, including the investigation officer, were assigned to produce the accused brothers at the court, although the Christian community had already asked the local administration for greater police protection.[72] Prior to the men’s deaths groups of organised Muslim activists had started to rally against the brothers in public, with loudspeakers from a number of mosques used illegally to incite violence against local Christians, along with various other acts of aggression.[73] On 7 July a procession in Warispura included the chanting of slogans against Christians – one of which called for the hanging of Rashid and Sajid –and the windows and doors of a Catholic church were attacked and broken; on 10 July the violence had escalated to the burning of tyres and a call for Christians to be driven from Warispura, and as many left that night with their belongings they were harassed by men on motorbikes. The AHRC claimed that efforts by the local government to quell the protest and mediate with its key leaders reportedly began in the evening of 10 July and were largely ineffective, with a large rally forming the following day, led by Muslim leaders from various religious and political parties (among them Khatme-e-Nabowat, Jamiat Ulema-ePakistan and Namoos-e-Risalat) which reportedly reiterated death threats against the brothers.[74] Commentators also noted that security staff at the gate of the Sessions Court Faisalabad usually confiscate small weapons such as knives and nail-cutters, raising questions has to how guns were allowed inside the court premises.[75]

In July 2010 The Dawn reported that a case under Section 155-C of the Police Order has been registered against the investigation officer and District Superintendent of Police, who was taken into custody, where he secured bail.[76] It also reported that the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told The Dawn that a communication had been sent to all provincial governments to protect those under trial for blasphemy, inside and outside of jail.[77] The same report noted that there were plans to introduce amendments to the blasphemy laws to prevent its misuse, noting that those who level false charges should also be punished.

Among those condemning the government’s handling of the case was the country’s Human Rights Commission, which declared it ‘a sad reflection on the state’s obligation to protect the lives of all citizens’.[78] Demands by NGOs included the setting up of an inquiry commission headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court, a bill to be tabled aimed at repealing the blasphemy laws on the recommendations of Parliamentary Standing Committees on Minorities, Religious Affairs and Human Rights, and the founding of an autonomous Commission on Minorities under the Prime Minister, rather than under the Ministry of Religious Affairs or Minority Affairs.[79] Rallies were also coordinated by the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), the National Director of the Justice and Peace Commission.[80]

C. The case of Zaibun Nisa

According to reports from the media and human rights organisations, Zaibun Nisa, 55 (in July 2010 as reported by Reuters, and aged 60 as reported by the BBC), from Maari Danish Mandan village in Suhala area, was arrested on 16 October 1996 by Sahala police, near Islamabad after a Muslim cleric filed a complaint against her for desecrating a copy of the Quran under Section 295-B of the PPC.[81] Contrary to most English-language media reports, which noted that Nisa then spent the next 14 years in the remand section of a mental hospital in Lahore, a recent interview with the victim in Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports that she remained in jail for nine years and then spent a further five years at the Punjab Institute of Mental Health after a judge in a Rawalpindi sessions court was informed that she had been diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia.[82]

The complainant, Qari Mohammad Hafeez, claimed to have found torn pages of the Quran thrown in a drain, however before the Lahore High Court in 2010, Hafeez stressed that his complaint had been registered against ‘unknown offenders’. Media reports claim that a police official had admitted that Nisa had been arrested to ‘defuse the tension’, after which she had been forgotten about. Nisa’s sister Azizun Nisa informed media that the victim was a divorcee, dependent on her nephews, and that they had arranged for her arrest; Azizun Nisa had been told that her sister had died while police were informed that she did not have relatives.[83] Lawyer Aftab Ahmed Bajwa discovered Nisa and took up her case in 2009, and filed a petition for her release. He claims that an examination had been carried out by a medical board shortly after her arrest that certified her as mentally ill. He has also stated that no evidence was ever produced that linked her to the crime.[84]

This case shows the extent to which the minimal safeguards already built into Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are neither followed nor sufficient, leaving them wide open to abuse by those with authority against those who have none, for various non-judicial ends. In this incident we see the law being arbitrarily used as a tool by those ill equipped to exercise their authority, against an ‘easy target’. As a divorced, mentally disabled woman, financially dependent on her male relatives, Zaibun Nisa is among the most vulnerable social demographic groups in Pakistan. The case illustrates that the blasphemy laws is particularly dangerous in countries without strong, well supported and accountable administrative and legal systems, and in a society in which persons feel too vulnerable to acts of vigilante justice to themselves approach and use the law. This is highlighted by the fact that few if any of those acquitted by the law ever file for damages.[85]

D. The case of the Layahh Ahmadi

Four teenage students and an adult from the Ahmadi minority Muslim sect were arrested on 28 January 2009 in Kot Sultan, a village in the Layyah district, Pujab, on the charge that they had written the name of Prophet Muhammed on the walls of a toilet in the Gulzare Madina Mosque, in village 172/TDA.[86] The complaint, filed by Liaquat Ali, a mainstream Muslim from village 172/TDA, led to the arrest of Mubashar Ahmed, 50; Muhammad Irfan, 14; Tahir Imran, 19; Tahir Mehmood, 19 and Naseeb Ahmed, 16, by Kot Sultan police. The boys were students from grades nine and ten of the Superior Academy in village 172/TDA.[87]

According to local and regional NGOs, among them the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the AHRC, police neglected to follow due process in the arrests, with no investigation conducted by a high ranking officer beforehand, and no proof presented that could link the accused to the graffiti.[88] Charges were filed under Section 295-C of the PPC after the detainees had spent approximately four hours in custody. The reasoning and investigation of the FIR were found to be insufficient by a HRCP fact finding team in a report published in February 2009.[89] The report directly cited the  reasoning in the FIR as follows:
A few days prior to the lodging of the FIR, Mr. Muhammad Safdar – a resident of Chak 173/TDA – saw the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) written in the mosque’s toilet. He told the prayer leader, Qari Muhammad Saeed, about the writing. The prayer leader said he knew about the writing and was probing the matter. The prayer leader scratched the name from the toilet’s walls. Thereafter, an employee of Government High School Chak 172/TDA, Shahbaz Qasim, also saw the writing in the toilet. Qasim told his father Noor Elahi Kaulachi who contacted Union Nazim Syed Ghazanfar Abbas. The nazim asked his secretary Mr. Ehsan to probe the matter. Kaulachi, who is a retired teacher, along with residents of villages 171/TDA, 172/TDA, 173/TDA and 174/TDA contacted Syed Iqbal Shah who made a telephone call to police station in-charge who visited the village. When Hakeem Muhammad Hanif, Safdar Mahr and Shahbaz Qasim tried to probe the incident they learned that four students from the Ahmadiyya community — Mohammad Irfan, Tahir Imran, Tahir Mehmood and Naseeb Ahmed – used to offer prayers in the mosque and used the toilets there. Mubasher Ahmed, another Ahmadi, was also seen offering Friday prayers in the mosque. Shahbaz Qasim stopped the Ahmadis from offering prayers in the mosque, due to which they [the accused] tried to create trouble. We [the complainant and other villagers] suspect since these Ahmadis are the only non-Muslims coming to the mosque, therefore they must have committed the offence.

The AHRC, on questioning police officers at Kot Sultan Police Station, also reported that officers admitted to being under the threat of strikes, public aggression and agitation from fundamentalist groups in the neighbourhood, and that they did not begin their investigation for more than a month after the arrests.[90] The HRCP noted that Station Head Officer Khalid Rauf:

[…] conceded that the law requires that an inquiry by a superintendent of police (SP) must be conducted about the occurrence before the registration of a case on charges of blasphemy. However, he added that an SP Investigation had not been appointed to the district for over two years, therefore, an investigation prior to the registration of the case could not be conducted. Now, the SP Investigation of Rajanpur district has been assigned to oversee the investigation of the case. SHO Khalid Rauf said he had visited the village and examined the place of occurrence. He said he found no eyewitnesses or any other evidence in the case and the FIR was based on suspicion about the accused. He said he saw reason in the stance of the complainant and the local residents that no Muslim can write the name of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on a toilet’s walls. When asked if an Ahmadi could do such a thing, he refused to answer.

Families of the boys also reported that raiding police had promised to detain the boys for just 24 hours to ease the pressure of Muslim fundamentalists in the area, and that they were given similar reasoning by phone by the district police officer (DPO) of Layyah Police Station, Dr Muhammad Azam, shortly after the charges were filed.[91] The relatives told NGOs that Azam claimed that ‘the group had threatened to close down the whole city and attack the houses of Ahmedi sect members’ and that he was worried about civilian deaths.[92] Shortly after their arrest the accused were transferred from Kot Sultan to Saddar Police Station in Layyah city, before being confined to the judicial wing of the Dera Ghazi Khan district prison on 4 February 2009, where, according to information directly received from Jamaat Ahmadiyya Pakistan, Pakistan’s main Ahmadi community organisation they remained until 24 April 2010.

During the detention of the suspects the senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Rajanpur, Mr. Pervez Rathore was assigned to conduct the investigation in the neighbouring district and prepare a report that would allow police to submit a challan (case diary) in court. The SSP’s report found that the case had no base and recommended that the accused persons be released, and the report was sent to the Punjab Ministry of the Interior at the end of March 2009, where it remained for a considerable length of time. In May of that year the AHRC wrote claiming that the process had been afflicted by administrative confusion, and was being stalled. [93] The AHRC  stated that ‘on the instruction of the first class magistrate, Layyah, the provincial police have to submit the challan on April 28. However, it was again deferred to May 12. The local police say that they could not submit challan as they are waiting for instructions from the government of Punjab.’[94] At this stage the complainant and his supporters were still reportedly adamant that the Ahmadis be punished on the basis of presumption, while police officers were reportedly reluctant to release the detained boys and man for concerns over their safety in the community. The court found the accused not guilty and released them in July, according to Saleem Ud Din, the director of public affairs and spokesperson for the Jammat Ahmadiyya Pakistan, who informed the authors of this paper that:

A bail petition before Additional Session Judge was moved on their behalf on June 13 2009 which was rejected. Subsequently another bail application was filed with the High Court and the same was accepted on July 07 2009, and after completion of other legal formalities they were released on bail. They joined the court proceeding to face the trial at Layyah where fanatic opponents created [an] adverse and terrible situation for them. Feeling unsafe and danger to the corporus of the accused their lawyer moved an application before the High Court for the transfer of their case to another place. The learned High Court thus transferred their case to Multan where the case proceedings commenced on 03-09-2009 and during various dates of hearing the procedure as laid down in law was completed and finally all the accused who were already on bail were acquitted on 24-04-2010.[95]


Aama notes that it has not been possible for the former accused to return to their neighbourhoods ‘due to the ‘poor law and order situation’.

Additional information:

During the fact finding mission, HRCP members found that around half a dozen families of the Ahmadiyya community lived in 172/TDA, and had done so peacefully for many years. However earlier that year the principal of the village’s Superior Academy had received permission from the prayer leader at Gulzar-e-Madina mosque for the Ahmadi students to offer prayers there. Within a week a villager, Qasim Shahbaz (employed by the local government high school) had objected and obstructed the students, and they had not returned. Approximately ten days after this incident the blasphemy complaint was filed, instigated by Syed Iqbal Shah, who is a ‘local influential and a relative of a National Assembly member from the area’ according to the fact finding report, who ‘preferred to believe the version of the local residents who back his family in the elections.’ The report then emphasises that the Ahmadi minority members are not registered as voters.[96]

In its concluding paragraphs this report later notes that a press conference held by the complainant and his supporters from various illegal religious organisations, ‘shows that undue influence was exerted by religious and political elements to pressure the police into registering a case’ and that ‘almost all the extremists urging action against the Ahmadis are not natives of the village’. NGOs reported that at least one of the students, Mukhtar Ahmed, 15, fell ill with typhoid due to the conditions in remand, and that the boys were denied visits by family.

Various media reports claimed that the Ahmadi population in Kot Sultan was besieged following the incident, with individual acts of harassment, inflammatory posters, calls in the community for their social and economic boycott and public threats by extremists groups of arson of Ahmadi homes. Asma Jahangir, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and, at the time, Chair of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, described the arrests as ‘heinous.’[97]

The case is a clear example of the extent to which law enforcement and the judicial process can be held hostage, weakened and warped by religious and political agitators in Pakistan. Blasphemy laws here remain a tool for those who wish to inflame ethnic tension and persecute minorities, often for their own ends, and Pakistan’s own history of using the blasphemy laws against Ahmadis is well established. For a law that carries a death penalty this is of particularly deep concern.  As noted by Ahmadi News Outlet, The Ahmadiya Times:

[…] successive democratically elected governments have failed to respond to the nationwide persecution of minorities. Since coming to power in 2008, the current Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government has announced on three occasions that the blasphemy laws will be reformed. It was only after the Lahore attacks against Ahmadis that PPP politicians began drafting legislation that called for harsh punitive measures against those who accuse others of blasphemy without sound proof. Though welcome, such legislation is a disappointing reminder that more radical changes to the constitution, which are needed, will not be effected in the foreseeable future.[98]

Such laws in an apparently ill regulated system can afford no effective national protection for vulnerable persons, and no reliable safeguards other than the repeal of the laws themselves. As noted in the conclusion, the laws again prove contrary to Pakistan’s obligations to protect vulnerable persons under various treaties and obligations under international law.

E. The case of Naushad Valyani

Muslim doctor, Naushad Valyani, was arrested on charges of committing blasphemy on 10 December by police from Cantt police station in Hyderabad, Sindh province. According to the AHRC, Valyani was working in his surgery on 9 December when he was accused of blasphemy by Mohammad Faizan, a medical representative of Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. In reporting the doctor’s account of the incident the AHRC relates that, since the doctor was receiving patients and could not entertain the visitor at the time, he placed his business card in a box beside his desk, however Faizan left the office and shouted that the doctor had committed blasphemy, since the name of the Prophet was written on the business card and the doctor had thrown it in the rubbish bin. Media accounts claims that it is the complainant’s own name ‘Mohammad’ that he referred to, rather than there being a specific mention of the Prophet on the card. According to the AHRC, witnesses at the scene were reportedly satisfied that the box was not a rubbish bin.

Other local media reports have issued a variation of this incident, in which Faizan first issued his blasphemy accusations in an incident the following day on his return to the doctor’s surgery with colleagues, which resulted in a ‘violent quarrel’.[99] The AHRC reports that this group comprised medical representatives from various local and multinational pharmaceutical companies, and that they held a protest demanding the arrest of the doctor on charges of blasphemy. The Commission alleges that the doctor was not well-liked among the representatives due to his support of natural remedies.

The Cantt police complied with the protest demands, Valyani was arrested and his clinic cordoned off. The AHRC notes that the police then neglected to follow the correct legal procedure, or observe the safeguards written into the blasphemy laws, with a junior police officer (an Assistant Sub Inspector of Police) rather than a Senior Superintendent of Police being assigned to investigate the case.[100] The complaint under Section 296-C of the PPC, was publically supported by local religious leaders and, if convicted the doctor would have faced a death sentence. [101] However  according to the Centre For Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), [102] the investigation did not uncover evidence of intention to blaspheme and, thanks in part to pressure from civil society organisations, the doctor was released on 13 December 2010 and has returned to his practice.

The case was cited in media reports as another example of the lax, ludicrous and selective handling of blasphemy laws in Pakistan, since the complaint was subject to an unreasonably broad interpretation of the law, and clear personal motive. As noted by various media and human rights commentators, a vast proportion of the country’s men are called Mohammad and the name is printed daily on items that are later discarded without religious or legal consequence. The arrest of the accused on such tenuous charges, without evidence or a credible investigation, violates his right to freedom from arbitrary arrest under international law, as enshrined in the ICCPR. It should be noted that Dr. Valyani is from the Ismaili Muslim community, which is a minority religious sect of Shiite origin,[103] and as a member of a religious minority he has rights to be free from persecution and all forms of harassment (which would include legal harassment), under both the ICCPR and the ICERD.

3.1.5. Conclusion

Each case study above clearly demonstrates the ways in which laws that criminalise the defamation of religion, when considered in practice, stand in strong conflict with international human rights standards. As a party to the ICCPR, Pakistan is obliged to uphold the right to free expression and the freedom of religion as detailed in Section One, which includes the positive obligation to prevent rights violations, protect citizens from such violations and to punish those who carry out such violations. Although the state has made reservations to Articles 18 and 19, these reservations do not allow it to go against the purpose and spirit of the Covenant.

As seen in the course of these recent cases, blasphemy laws are commonly misused as a tool of repression: whether against Ahmadi students who wished to worship in a local mosque or a Muslim doctor who wanted to run his practice in a particular, legitimate way. By allowing these laws to be liberally applied the state is failing to uphold its positive obligations. By failing to provide adequate protection to victims and defendants and allowing vigilante actions to be carried out without investigation or prosecution, the state appears to sanction the violence. In many of these cases the significant malfunctioning of the law enforcement authorities led to the arbitrary detention of these persons, which violates Article 9 of the ICCPR.

As party to the ICERD and according to Article 20 of the ICCPR, Pakistan is obliged to protect its subjects from racial or religious hatred. This is an obligation also enshrined in its own constitution,[104] yet cases of blasphemy are predominantly and arbitrarily taken against minority persons,[105] suggesting a systematic form of persecution and legal harassment, waged by the lower levels of the state hierarchy and condoned by the higher levels. Rather than being assessed and dismissed in the initial stages of prosecution (as provided for by the rarely-used 2004 amendment to criminal procedure),  many such cases are overturned at the highest levels of the judiciary.  Each of these has resulted in the traumatisation of the accused (including their subjection to extreme physical danger), and the wasting of national resources. Indeed members of the police force and the lower judiciary themselves appear to be susceptible to prejudices and political interference, which throws strong doubt upon the ability of the judicial system to fairly try such cases, many of which are met with the death penalty.[106] The results of this study make a strong case for the repeal of the laws and their replacement with a campaign of educational programmes promoting religious tolerance and freedom of expression.

[1] ‘Muhammad Zia ul-Haq’ in GlobalSecurity.org (a US-based source of background information and developing news stories in the fields of defense, space, intelligence, WMD, and homeland security).

[2] Ḥaqqānī, Pakistan: between mosque and military, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Lahore, Vanguard Books, 2005.

[3] Ordinance No. XX of 1984, which was passed ‘to amend the law to prohibit the Quadiani group, Lahori group and Ahmadis from indulging in anti-Islamic activities’ included the addition of new section 298C to The Pakistan Penal Code Act XLV of 1860, as featured in the following section. www.pakistani.org

[5] Article 3 states:
Islamic way of life: (1) Steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah.

(2) The state shall endeavour, as respects the Muslims of Pakistan, :

(a) to make the teaching of the Holy Quran and Islamiat compulsory, to encourage and facilitate the learning of Arabic language and to secure correct and exact printing and publishing of the Holy Quran;

(b) to promote unity and the observance of the Islamic moral standards; and

(c) to secure the proper organisation of zakat, [ushr,] auqaf and mosques.

[6] 296 and 297 are not related to blasphemy, but provide for the interruption of religions events and the trespassing on religious property, respectively.

[7] Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860), Act XLV of 1860, 6 October 1860, www.pakistani.org.

[8] HRC, 26 March 2008, A/HRC/WG.6/1/DZA/2.

[9] Rebecca J. Dobras, ‘Is the United Nations Endorsing Human Rights Violations? An Analysis of the United Nations’ Combating Defamation of Religions Resolutions and Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws’, 37 Ga. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 340 2008-2009; The Indian, ‘Pak SC rejects petition-challenging death as the only punishment for blasphemy’, 22 April 2009, http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/south-asia/pak-sc-rejects-petition-challenging-death-as-the-only-punishment-for-blasphemy_100183053.html.

[10] BBC Online, ‘Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has price on her head’, 7 December 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11930849  and Dobras, ‘Is the United Nations Endorsing Human Rights Violations? An Analysis of the United Nations’ Combating Defamation of Religions Resolutions and Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws’, 37 Ga. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 340 2008-2009.

[11] As noted by Asif Aqeel and Shaheryar Gill; respectively the Executive Director of European Center for Law and Justice’s (ECLJ) office in Lahore, Pakistan and Associate Counsel with the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) based in Virginia; in’ Presidential Pardon to Pakistani Blasphemy Convict Not the Answer’ published by the European Centre for Law and Justice. 29 November 2010; http://www.eclj.org/Releases/Read.aspx?GUID=ea238c6b-3963-4e21-906e-9a016fe4bc68&s=innws.

[12] Article 45 of the constitution says, ‘The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.’

[13] Act 1 of 2005 The Criminal Law Amendment act 2004, published in Pakistan Law Journal (PLJ) 2005 Federal Shriat Court, p. 207 (see Annex I).

[14] As referenced in ‘Sherry Rehman: “I believe the repeal option is still the best one, but…”’ The News, December  2010,  http://www.jinnah-institute.org/issues/205-sherry-rehman-qi-believe-the-repeal-option-is-still-the-best-one-butq, and in and ‘Is the United Nations Endorsing Human Rights Violations? An Analysis of the United Nations’ Combating Defamation of Religions Resolutions and Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws’, Rebecca J. Dobras,, 37 Ga. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 340 2008-2009 ‘.

[15] The NCJP was formed in 1985 by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference: http://www.ncjppk.org/

[16] Huffington Post, ‘Institutionalized discrimination against religious minorities’, 10 December 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-buckwalterpoza/pakistans-institutionaliz_b_794230.html.

[17] 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians and 14 Hindus; cited in ‘Joint written statement submitted by Franciscans International, non-governmental organization in general consultative status; Pax Christi International-International Catholic Peace Movement, Pax Romana (the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs and International Movement of Catholic Students), Dominicans for Justice and Peace – the Order of Preachers, non-governmental organizations in special consultative status’, to the Human Rights Council, A/HRC/12/NGO/14,  4 September 2009.

[18] Human Rights Watch, ‘Pakistan: Massacre of Minority Ahmadis’, 31 May 2010, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/05/31/pakistan-massacre-minority-ahmadis, Human Rights Watch commented that the blasphemy law and the government’s failure to address religious persecution by extremist groups effectively enables atrocities against minorities.

[19] CHR, 2 January 1996, E/CN.4/1996/95.Add.1, Para 82.

[20] CERD, 16 March 2009, CERD/C/PAK/CO/20, Para 19.

[21] The Express Tribune, ‘Blasphemy laws: 58% of women booked are Muslims’, 1 December 2010, http://tribune.com.pk/story/84133/blasphemy-laws-58-of-women-booked-are-muslims.

[22] Human Rights Watch, ‘Pakistan: Repeal Blasphemy Laws’, 23 November 2010; http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/11/22/pakistan-repeal-blasphemy-law; AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: The Christian community in Punjab is under threat from extremist groups again; two brothers are illegally charged with blasphemy’, 14 July 2010, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3503/.

[23] Jinnah Institute, ‘Briefing Pack’ on: Amendments to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010, http://www.jinnah-institute.org/images/ji%20briefing%20pack%20amendments%20to%20the%20blasphemy%20laws.pdf; ‘Blasphemy Law Revisted’ by I.A. Rehman, The Dawn, 29 July 2010, forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission:

In a preface to ‘Namoos-i-Risalat’, an account of the making of 295-C by Advocate Ismail Qureshi, (Al Faisal Publishers, Lahore, 1994), former Supreme Court judge and former president Rafiq Tarar declared: ‘If this law is not there the doors to courts will be closed on the culprits and the petitioners provoked by them, and then everyone will take the law in his own hands and exact revenge from the criminals. As a result anarchy will prevail in the country.’ The article also noted that in 1994 the Lahore High Court declared that if Section 295-C of the PPC were struck down, ‘the old system of killing a culprit on the spot could be revived’.

[24] Section 3 of Loud Speaker Act 1965 bans all types of speeches other than Azan (the call to prayer) and the Friday sermon in Arabic, as noted by the AHRC,PAKISTAN: The killing of two Christian brothers is the result of the negligence and bias of the Punjab government and police,’ 20 July 2010, http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2693/.

[25] The Amendments to the Blasphemy Laws Act 2010 can be read at the Jinnah Institute’s website: http://www.jinnah-institute.org.

[26] ‘Sherry Rehman: ‘I believe the repeal option is still the best one, but…’ The News, December 2010, http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/dec2010-weekly/nos-12-12-2010/dia.htm#5.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] All Voices media (online media outlet), ‘Pakistani Government will not repeal blasphemy law: minister for Minorities’, November 23 2010, http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/7416694-pakistani-government-will-not-repeal-blasphemy-law-minister-for-minorities/images.

[30] South Asia News, ‘Pakistani court blocks government drive to relax blasphemy laws’, 6 December 2010, http://wwrn.org/articles/?place=pakistan.

[31] The Dawn, ‘Religious parties to strike against amendment in blasphemy law’, 19 December 2010, http://www.dawn.com/2010/12/19/religious-parties-to-strike-against-amendment-in-blasphemy-law.html: ‘Speaking at a press conference, Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islami, Liaquat Baloch, said that a nationwide strike will be observed on 31 December. Baloch said that a rally and protest will also observed in Karachi on 9th January. He said that a calculated conspiracy is on the way to change the Islamic law in the country. Secretary information, of Jamiat Ulema Islam (F), Maulana Amjad Khan said that the president and prime minister should take action against Sherry Rehman for the amendment bill against the blasphemy law in the national assembly.’

[32] Daily Times, ‘Proposing amends in blasphemy laws’, 9 January 2011, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/?page=2011\01\09\story_9-1-2011_pg1_1.

[33] The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), ‘Blasphemy laws – Stopping the rot’, 16 November 2010, http://www.humanrights.asia/opinions/columns/AHRC-ETC-040-2010.

[34] From various news reports, among them Spero News, ‘Pakistan: Concern grows for Christian accused of blasphemy’, 25 November 2010, http://www.speroforum.com/a/43899/Pakistan-Concern-grows-for-Christian-accused-of-blasphemy.

[35] On 9 December 2010 the details of this case were narrated and used by Pakistan Christian Congress leader, Dr. Nazir Bhatti, speaking at a Human Rights Day event at the National Press Club in Washington, to call for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and to urge the ‘UN General Assembly member states and their representatives in United Nations Human Right Council UNHRC to re-consider their stance on ‘Defamation of Religion’ resolution, presented by Pakistan on behalf of Organization of Islamic Countries, prepared by Egypt and seconded by U.S.A., in present situation of religious minorities in Islamic States because Pakistan wants to globalize blasphemy law’, http://www.pakistanchristiancongress.org/contents.php?section_id=44.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Section 3 of the Loud Speaker Act 1965 prohibits the use of mosque loudspeakers for anything other than Section 3 of the Loudspeaker Act 1965 bans all types of speeches other than Azan (the call to prayer) and the Friday sermon in Arabic, as noted in AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: The Christian community in Punjab is under threat from extremist groups again; two brothers are illegally charged with blasphemy’, 14 July 2010, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3503/.

[38] BBC, ‘Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi ‘has price on her head’, 7 December 2010.

[39] Spero News, ‘Pakistan: Concern grows for Christian accused of blasphemy’, 25 November 2010.

[40] Agence France-Presse, ‘Christian Woman Sentenced to Death’, 11 November 2010ㄝhttp://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Christian-woman-sentenced-to-death-for-blasphemy-in-Pakistan/articleshow/6909757.cms.

[41] CNN, ‘Pakistan’s president will pardon Christian woman, official says’, 23 November 2010, http://articles.cnn.com/2010-11-23/world/pakistan.christian_1_blasphemy-law-christian-woman-zardari?_s=PM:WORLD.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Pakistan Daily Times, ‘Blasphemy cases only after SP’s investigation’, 31 July 2004, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_31-7-2004_pg7_17.

[44] Door of Hope International, DOHI-News, ‘Imam calls for beheading of Asia Bibi No Presidential pardon’, 2 August 2010, http://www.dohi.org/us/printableproddetail.asp?prod=120810.

[45] Ibid.

[46] AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: Muslim leaders who issued decree to kill a Christian woman should be prosecuted ‘, 8 December 2009, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3606. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission and various media sources, Maulana Yousef Qureshi, a hard line Pakistani Islamic cleric of Mosque Mahabat Khan (reportedly the oldest and largest in the Khyber Pakhtoon Kha), told a rally in the north-western town of Peshawar that his mosque would give Rs500,000 (US$5,700) to anyone who killed Aasia Bibi.

[47] The editor announced and supported the ‘reward’ for the assassination in the ‘Sar-e-Raahay’ or editor’s note on 5 December 2010, which was reprinted in a critical report by Muhammad Amjad Rashid on 20 December 2010 in syndicated blog, by the ‘Critical Supporters of Pakistan People’s Party’ (CSPPP), under the title ‘Nawa-i-Waqt is promoting religious extremism’ , http://criticalppp.com/archives/32157.

[48] Spero News, ‘Pakistan: Concern grows for Christian accused of blasphemy’, 25 November 2010, http://www.speroforum.com/a/43899/Pakistan-Concern-grows-for-Christian-accused-of-blasphemy.

[49] Andhra News.net, ‘Asma Jahangir assails LHC stay order against presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi’, 1 December 2010, http://news.oneindia.in/2010/12/01/asmajahangir-assails-lhc-stay-order-against-presidentialpa.html: ‘If they want to get popular there are other ways to do it. Do not twist the laws as court verdicts become precedence,’ she remarked, while speaking at a seminar on ‘The blasphemy laws: a call for review’, organised by Jinnah Institute, a think-tank launched by former information minister Sherry Rehman.’

[50] The Dawn, ‘Sunni Ittehad Council warns of anarchy if Aasia pardoned’, 26 November 2010, http://www.dawn.com/2010/11/26/sunni-ittehad-council-warns-of-anarchy-if-asia-pardoned.html.

[51] TIME Magazine, ‘Murder in Islamabad: Pakistan’s Deepening Religious Divide’, 4 January 2011, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2040735,00.html.

[52] BBC, ‘Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has price on her head’, 7 December 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11930849.

[53] Asian Human Rights Commission, ‘Muslim leaders who issued decree to kill a Christian woman should be prosecuted’, 8 December 2010, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-177-2010, ‘When Mr. Shara, a minority member of the assembly, wanted to discuss the issue of Aasia and her punishment, the speaker, Rani Iqbal Ahmad, refused to allow Shara to speak on the issue, describing it as ‘sensitive’. Protesting against the speaker’s attitude, legislators belonging to minority communities walked out of the House. However, when Ali Haider Noor Niazi of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan party began speaking emotionally on the same issue, the speaker did not stop him. Niazi began shouting within the assembly as he criticised those who were trying to defend the woman. Niazi criticised Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer for raising his voice in favour of Asia Bibi. ‘The governor has no right to make efforts for Asia’s pardon,’ he said. Niazi was also of the view that those demanding the woman’s release are blasphemers.’

[54] Dawn newspaper blog, ‘An instrument of abuse?’, 26 November 2010, http://www.dawn.com/2010/11/26/an-instrument-of-abuse.html.

[55] BBC, ‘Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi ‘has price on her head’, 7 December 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11930849.

[56] ‘It was designed as an instrument of persecution,’ says Ali Hasan Dayan, of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan. ‘It’s discriminatory and abusive’, Ibid.

[57] AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: The Christian community in Punjab is under threat from extremist groups again; two brothers are illegally charged with blasphemy’, 14 July 2010, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3503/.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Pakistan Daily Times, Blasphemy cases only after SP’s investigation’, July 31, 2004, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_31-7-2004_pg7_17.

[61] AHRC, PAKISTAN: ‘The Christian community in Punjab is under threat from extremist groups again; two brothers are illegally charged with blasphemy’, 14 July 2010. Mr. Atif Jamil Pagan, the Chief of Pakistan Minorities Democratic Harmony Foundation, reported to local NGOs that the sub inspector involved in the investigation, a Mr. Mohammad Hessian, informed him that the accused was being detained without evidence against him because the case was a ‘sensitive’ one.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Crimes relating to religion were previously under the authority of the ATC before the addition of clause 780 of the Anti Terrorist Act (ATA) in 1997.

[64] AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: The Christian community in Punjab is under threat from extremist groups again; two brothers are illegally charged with blasphemy’, 14 July 2010, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3503/.

[65] Ibid.

[67] The Nation,‘D&SJ ordered to hold judicial inquiry’, 22 July 2010, http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Regional/Lahore/22-Jul-2010/DSJordered-to-hold-judicial-inquiry.

[68] Ibid.

[69] In ‘Poor security led to murder of Emannuels’ in The Dawn, 3 August 2010, it was noted: ‘Subsequently, the RPO convened a meeting of his subordinates on July 13 to discuss the law and order situation in the wake of the blasphemy issue to avoid widespread violence. Documents of the meeting (10650/PA), dated July 14, read that pursuant to the commissioner’s meeting, the following observations were made: “The issue has been hanging for the last 13 days which is required to be resolved on a priority basis. The RPO emphasised that all possible measures should be taken to pacify the tense situation in the district. All such issues should be taken seriously and handled tactfully.” SP investigation Muhammad Hanif, who was later transferred to the IG office after the killing of the Christian brothers, was directed to finalise the investigation on merit and DSP Ashiq Husain and inspector Mohammad Husain would assist the investigator in carrying out investigation. ‘It was also discussed that in case of poor investigation, the issue may create a sectarian rift disturbing the law and order situation. The officers concerned will be held responsible if this happened and stern action will be initiated against them.’ http://news.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/national/poor-security-led-to-murder-of-emanuels-480.

[70] ASSIST News Service, ‘Gojra Martyrs remembered’, 1 August 2010, http://www.assistnews.net/Stories/2010/s10080002.htm. In 2009 a deadly attack on Christians 50km away in Korian village, Tehsil Gojra, Faisalabad saw six people set alight and burned to death. The suspected perpetrators were members of Sipah-e-Sahaba, a banned Muslim organization, and the reason given for the violence was that a Christian had defiled a Quran. Solidarity actions and protests have since taken place between Christians from this village and from Daud Nagar in Warispura.

[71] UPI, ‘Tensions rise after Christian deaths’, 21 July 2010.

[72] AHRC,PAKISTAN: The killing of two Christian brothers is the result of the negligence and bias of the Punjab government and police,’ 20 July 2010, http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2010statements/2693/.

[73] Section 3 of the Loud Speaker Act 1965 prohibits the use of mosque loudspeakers for anything other than Azan (the call to prayer) and the Friday sermon in Arabic, as noted in AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: The Christian community in Punjab is under threat from extremist groups again; two brothers are illegally charged with blasphemy’, 14 July 2010. http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3503/.

[74] Speakers at the meeting announced that a set of gallows had been set up at in the centre of Faisalabad, in preparation for the hanging of blasphemous Christians, according to AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: The Christian community in Punjab is under threat from extremist groups again; two brothers are illegally charged with blasphemy’, 14 July 2010, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2010/3503/.

[75] As noted by Naveed Walter, President of the Human Rights Focus Pakistan, in various media reports, including UPI, ‘Tensions rise after Christian deaths’, 21 July 2010.

[76] The section deals with misconduct by police officers who are guilty of ‘any wilful breach or neglect of any provision of law or of any rule or regulation or any order which [they are] bound to observe or obey,’ with the maximum punishment of three years in prison, with or without a fine, http://www.epakistannews.com/prime-suspect-sho-rana-ilyas.html as mentioned in Dawn, ‘LHC orders judicial inquiry into Christians’ murder, 21 July 2010’, http://news.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/44-lhc-orders-judicial-inquiry-into-faisalabad-killings-fa-01

[77] The Dawn, ‘LHC orders judicial inquiry into Christians’ murder, 21 July 2010, http://news.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/pakistan/44-lhc-orders-judicial-inquiry-into-faisalabad-killings-fa-01

[78] Christian Solidarity Worldwide, ‘Pakistan: Protests against misuse of blasphemy laws’, 26 July 2010, http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=press&id=1016.

[79] Demands publicised by the Pakistan Chapter of Women’s Action Forum, as reported in The Dawn, ‘Christian brothers’ murder condemned’ 27 July 2010, http://news.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/local/islamabad/christian-brothers-murder-condemned-770.

[80] Christian Solidarity Worldwide, ‘Pakistan: Protests against misuse of blasphemy laws’, 26 July 2010, http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=press&id=1016.

[81] BBC Online, ‘Mentally-ill Pakistan ‘blasphemer’ is released’, 23 July 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-10739623.

[82] Express Tribune, ‘Wronged victim in blasphemy case tries to lead a normal life’, 28 July 2010, http://tribune.com.pk/story/31881/wronged-victim-in-blasphemy-case-tries-to-lead-a-normal-life/

[83] Express Tribune, ‘Wronged victim in blasphemy case tries to lead a normal life’, 28 July 2010, http://tribune.com.pk/story/31881/wronged-victim-in-blasphemy-case-tries-to-lead-a-normal-life/

[84] The Express Tribune, ‘Pakistan: 80% accused of blasphemy are falsely implicated,’ December 2010, http://southasia.oneworld.net/todaysheadlines/pakistan-80-accused-of-blasphemy-are-falsely-implicated.

[85] As noted in The Express Tribune, ‘Blasphemy laws: 58% of women booked are Muslims’, 1December 2010, http://tribune.com.pk/story/84133/blasphemy-laws-58-of-women-booked-are-muslims/, a series of women charged and acquitted with blasphemy charges, including Nasreen Bibi of Kabirwala, and Naseem Bibi, who was also mentally challenged, did not follow through with claims for compensation.

[86] HRCP, Fact-finding report: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district, 1 February 2009, http://www.hrcp-web.org/showfact.asp?id=11; AlphaTrade Finance, ‘Children Charged for Blasphemy as the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan Escalates’, 3 February 2010.

[87] Ages taken from Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Fact-finding report: Filing of blasphemy charges against 5 Ahmadis in Layyah district, 1 February 2009, though variations have been reported, http://www.hrcp-web.org/showfact.asp?id=11. The HRCP is an independent, voluntary, non-political, non-profit making, non-governmental organisation, registered under the Societies Registration Act (XXI of 1860), with its Secretariat office in Lahore.

[88] Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Ahmadis held without any evidence of blasphemy’, 12 February 2009, signed by former organisation chairperson Asma Jahangir, http://www.hrcp-web.org/showprel.asp?id=58.

[89] Ibid.

[90] AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: Four children and one man have been arbitrarily arrested and charged with blasphemy at the request of Muslim radicals’, 30 January 2009, http://www.ahrchk.net/ahrc-in-news/mainfile.php/2009ahrcinnews/2498/.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Ibid.

[93] AHRC, ‘PAKISTAN: Government of Punjab kept four teenagers and a man in illegal detention on Blasphemy charge’, 6 May 2009, http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2009/3150/.

[94] Ibid.

[95] By written communication with the author of this report.

[96] As determined by the Conduct of General Elections Order of 2002, http://www.nrb.gov.pk/publications/conduct_of_general_elections_2002.pdf, Ahmadis must vote in a separate electoral role that declares them ‘non-Muslims’; many decline to do so.

[97] Alpha Trade Finance,  ‘Children Charged for Blasphemy as the persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan Escalates’, 3 February 2010, http://www.ahrchk.net/ahrc-in-news/mainfile.php/2009ahrcinnews/2508/.

[98] Ahmadiya Times, ‘Faith and common sense: Pakistan’s blasphemy laws need reforming’, 30 June 2010, http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2010/06/faith-and-common-sense-pakistans.html.

[99] Continental News, ‘Pakistan’s Controversial Blasphemy Law Used Yet Again’, 21 December 2010, http://continentalnews.net/christian-news/pakistan%E2%80%99s-controversial-blasphemy-law-used-yet-again-4194.html.

[100] Pakistan Daily Times, ‘Blasphemy cases only after SP’s investigation’, 31 July 2004, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=story_31-7-2004_pg7_17.

[101] Karachi News.Net, ‘Pakistan’s archaic blasphemy laws claim doctor’, 13 December 2010, http://www.karachinews.net/story/719217.

[102] According to communications with Nadeem Anthony, Research Officer at CLAAS, http://claas.org.uk/blasphemy-campaigns.aspx

[103] Fides News Agency, ‘Blasphemy in a “frenzy”: a Muslim doctor incriminated’, 15 December 2010, (Fides describes itself, in its website, as a missionary agency of the order of the Council Superior General of the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith), http://www.fides.org/aree/news/newsdet.php?idnews=28008&lan=eng.

[104] As noted earlier in the section, Article 33 of the Pakistan Constitution requires that ‘the State shall discourage parochial, racial, tribal, sectarian and provincial prejudices among the citizens.’

[105] As covered in section 3.1.2

[106] Though as noted in section 3.1.2, a judicial execution has yet to be carried out.

Legal Study: Defamation of Religions - International Developments and Challenges on the Ground

Legal Study: Defamation of Religions - International Developments and Challenges on the Ground

Social Science Research Network2011.

Abstract: This paper aims to provide a general overview of the current debate on religious defamation laws internationally, and to research and analyse the use and impact of the ‘defamation of religion’ concept and blasphemy laws on freedom of expression in three OIC member states. Part I of the paper will explore the evolution of the concept within the UN in three sections: Section One looks at the positions held by the OIC since the introduction of the initial resolution on defamation of religion at the UN; Section Two explores the counter positions held by NGOs and states in disagreement; and Section Three examines the treatment of this concept in other UN reports, namely from its committees and independent experts, as a measure of the current international consensus. Part II of this project is a study of three selected OIC member states: Algeria, Syria and Pakistan. In this section we present the national laws on religious defamation and blasphemy in each country, including amendments and contemporary moves towards reform. We then follow with a series of recent cases that have employed these laws in each of the three countries, and analyse the use of each in relation to the impact it had on freedom of expression, and other rights and freedoms enshrined in human rights law. By doing so we aim to identify whether the de facto prohibition of defamation relating to religion falls within the spirit of, or conversely is repugnant to each state’s obligations under international human rights law.

Note: The paper was written with Julia Alfandari and Regula Atteya.  I researched and wrote specifically on the defamation discourse at the UN (Section 2.3, here), and the legal and human impact of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws using five case studies (here).

Advocacy for the Asian Human Rights Commission

Advocacy for the Asian Human Rights Commission

Between 2007 and 2010 I worked in Hong Kong and various countries in Asia as advocacy programme manager for the AHRC and its sister organisation, the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a regional NGO. This involved managing and writing advocacy strategies and content, liaising on casework with state officials and UN Special Procedures, and advocacy at high level fora, namely the UN Human Rights Council. Other activities, included field research on witness protection, violence against women and torture in various Asian countries and delivering workshops for human rights defenders. Below is a small selection of my work, taken from over a hundred articles and appeals written during my time there.

 Reports and submissions:

ASIA: Council urged to act to protect rights by protecting human rights defenders, a written statement to the Human Rights Council, Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, 23 February 2010.

PAKISTAN: Judicial obedience and a weak rule of law continue under the new government, a written statement to the Human Rights Council, 10 October 2009.

The State of Human Rights in Pakistan 2008: co-written with Baseer Naweed: authored chapters on the Right to Life; Religious Freedom and Minorities, The Rights of Women; Honour Killings and the Jirga (PDF).

Articles and statements:

PAKISTAN: The judiciary must confront suspected state agents on the issue of disappearances, 20 November 2009.

Thankless tasks: Human rights defenders in Sri Lanka & Pakistan, Article 2, Vol. 8, No. 3, September 2009 [PDF].

‘The Price of Fighting the State in Sri Lanka’Article 2, Vol. 08 – No. 01, Special Edition: Use of Police Powers for Profit, March 2009.

PAKISTAN: Judge humiliates teenage rape victim in open court, 28 March 2009.

PAKISTAN: As the government has protesting lawyers and activists arrested, hope fades for an independent judiciary and a democratic future in Pakistan, 13 March 2009.

PAKISTAN: The government must crack down hard on Jirga courts and the extra-judicial murders they commit, 3 November 2008.


Urgent Appeals: theory and practice.

SRI LANKA: Stop the torture of detainees at Rajangana Police Station, 8 July 2010.

SRI LANKA: Balagolla police mislead a magistrate and prepare charges against the wrong person, 9 February 2010 & SRI LANKA: Progress is made in a case of judicial and police corruption, 17 June 2010

INDIA: Encounter killings are exposed as murder in Assam, yet police refuse to investigate, 27 November 2009.

PAKISTAN: Newspaper advertisements call for the murder of a human rights lawyer in Punjab; police silently spectate, 9 September 2009.


Women Speak Out: Contribution to a collection of 43 cross-regional interviews with women on torture, ill treatment and domestic violence from Sri Lanka, including interview 20 and 24. Available as a collection in Ethics in Action online.