Responding to an Anti-Terrorism court’s decision to convict and sentence to death a man for allegedly posting content on Facebook deemed to be ‘blasphemous’, Amnesty International’s Pakistan campaigner, Nadia Rahman, said:
“Convicting and sentencing someone to death for allegedly posting blasphemous material online is a violation of international human rights law and sets a dangerous precedent. The authorities are using vague and broad laws to criminalize freedom of expression. He and all others accused of ‘blasphemy’ must be released immediately.
“Instead of holding people accountable for mob violence that has killed at least three people and injured several more in recent months, the authorities are becoming part of the problem by enforcing laws that lack safeguards and are open to abuse.
“No one should be hauled before an anti-terrorism court or any other court solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief online. It is also horrific that they are prepared to use the death penalty in such cases, a cruel and irreversible punishment that most of the world has had the good sense to abandon.”
The conviction and sentence, imposed by an Anti-Terrorism Court, came after the Facebook user was accused under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code (using derogatory remarks…in respect of the Holy Prophet) and Sections 9 and 11(w) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which criminalize incitement to sectarian hatred.
The sentence is the harshest handed down yet for a cyber-crime related offence. Pakistan has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy.
An Amnesty International report published in December 2016 documented how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used against religious minorities and others who are the target of false accusations, while emboldening vigilantes who are prepared to threaten or kill the accused.
“As good as dead”: The impact of blasphemy laws in Pakistan shows how once a person is accused, they become ensnared in a system that offers them few protections, presumes them guilty, and fails to safeguard them against people willing to use violence.
People accused of blasphemy, the report documents, face a gruelling struggle to establish their innocence. Even if a person is acquitted of the charges against them and released, usually after long delays, they can still face threats to their life.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally in all cases – regardless of who is the accused, the crime, guilt or innocence, or method of execution.