Pakistan’s Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, but Humanists UK says the country’s harsh blasphemy laws still pose a dangerous threat to human life and people’s right to freedom of expression.
Asia Bibi was accused of making blasphemous comments about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in 2009 when she was working on a farm with a group of women. She was beaten up and arrested and then sentenced to the death penalty in 2010. She has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement, and her case has become an international cause célèbre.
After the ruling, violent protestors condemned the ruling and called for the strengthening of blasphemy laws.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carry the death penalty or life in prison, and tend to target the non-religious, religious minorities, and dissenting Muslims. Though there has been an effective moratorium on carrying out the death sentence in recent years in Pakistan, dozens of people at least still face the death penalty, and furthermore those accused of blasphemy are often murdered before or after any trial takes place. This happened last year to humanist Mashal Khan, who was murdered last year by fellow students at his University.
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:
‘Blasphemy laws have resulted in extreme human rights abuses across the world where people have been murdered, tortured, or jailed just for expressing opinions about religion. We need to fiercely defend the rights of all people to be able to freely and safely express their own personal views about religion or god.
‘Asia will be released from prison but she remains at very high risk based on the treatment of people accused of blasphemy in the past in Pakistan who have faced mob brutality often with fatal consequences.
‘Earlier this year at the United Nations Human Rights Council, we called for blasphemy laws to be abolished worldwide. We will continue to call for global action on blasphemy to ensure that we stand up against any push to curtail people’s freedom of speech.’
Humanists UK is a founding member of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign. In August, Humanists UK expressed alarm after the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, said that limiting freedom of speech would be a priority policy for his administration, vowing to revive a campaign to impose global blasphemy laws at the United Nations.
Significant progress on blasphemy has been made recently with France, Malta, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark all having recently repealed their blasphemy laws, and Ireland having voted to do the same last week. However, many countries around the world still have restrictive and harsh blasphemy laws.
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07815 589636.
Read more about Humanists UK’s international campaign to end blasphemy laws: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/international-campaigns/
At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.