CLAAS Urges International Community to Put Pressure on Pakistan Over Blasphemy Laws

Feb 18, 2011 01:47 PM EST

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) is deeply saddened to hear that the Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has approved recommendations to kill proposals for a review of the blasphemy laws and pardon for Asia Bibi.

Law Minister Babar Awan urged the Prime Minister not to amend the blasphemy law or pardon Asia Bibi in a letter on Monday. He later told The News that his proposals were supported by the Prime Minister.

In his letter, Mr Awan wrote that “no action is required” on the part of the executive authorities to free Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, as she had “already sought herself legal remedy” by filing an appeal against her conviction.

In his note, he also stated that the request from the Ministry of Minorities to reform the blasphemy laws had “no substance”.

“Therefore, no action is recommended,” he said.

The Law Minister dismissed widespread concerns that Pakistan’s laws fall short of international human rights standards.

“This impression is totally baseless and ill founded,” he said.

He concluded that the death penalty for blasphemy, as provided in section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860, is “well in accordance with the injunctions of Islam” as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah of Holy Prophet (SAW) and “need not to be changed or amended”.

Following his letter, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat issued an order on Tuesday stating: “The Prime Minister has been pleased to approve the proposals contained in the subject note of minister for law, justice & parliamentary affairs. Ministries concerned are being conveyed necessary directions on actionable proposals, copies of which are being endorsed to you (ministries) separately.”

CLAAS finds the Law Minister’s recommendations astonishing and is deeply alarmed that the Prime Minister has decided to endorse them.

“This latest development is extremely concerning as it throws into doubt the prospects of Asia Bibi and other Christians affected by the unjust blasphemy laws of ever receiving justice,” said CLAAS’s UK Coordinator, Nasir Saeed.

“In light of the Pakistani government’s continued refusal to review the dire religious freedom and human rights situation in Pakistan, we urge the international community, particularly the UN and EU, to intensify their efforts to hold Pakistan to account on the fulfillment of its international obligations in respect of these areas.

“As it stands, the law is failing to protect Christians like Asia Bibi and they are being pushed to the margins by an aggressive minority that is not afraid to take the law into its own hands because it knows there are few repercussions.

“NGOs, governments, the EU, UN and church leaders must all raise their voices and speak out against the failure of the Pakistani government to comply with its international obligations to protect religious minorities and human rights.”