"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Emergency Advocacy Letter Delivered to Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S.

Asia Bibi, Pakistani Christian and mother of 5, is on death row. Pakistan's Supreme Court is set to hear the final appeal of her case tomorrow - Thursday, October 13th. Today, we delivered an emergency letter in support of Asia to Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States. Our letter requests that he do everything in his power to advocate for Asia's freedom, and for "the protection of the rights and religious freedoms of all Pakistani citizens."

Asia has been death row for her Christian faith for 2,164 days - nearly 6 years. She was accused and convicted of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad's name. Under Pakistani law, blasphemy is punishable by death, and Asia was sentenced to death by hanging. Her only "crime," however, was publicly affirming her faith in Jesus Christ.

Asia was arrested back in 2009, after an argument occurred between her and her co-workers. As we informed the Ambassador:

Asia, who was picking berries, took a break from her work to get a drink of water and offered some water to the other women working with her. Her co-workers informed Asia that they could not drink water from the hands of a Christian woman, because, by handling it, she had made the water haram. Asia's co-workers then demanded that she convert to Islam to be cleansed of her impurity. Asia refused and instead publically affirmed her faith in Jesus Christ.

We've reported before how events then escalated, leading to Asia's arrest 5 days later. Asia's subsequent trial was full of errors, and in November 2010, Asia was sentenced to death. Asia appealed her conviction to the Lahore High Court, which - 4 years later, in October 2014 - upheld her conviction. Now, Pakistan's Supreme Court is about to hear Asia's final appeal.

Our letter to the Pakistani Ambassador discusses Asia's case and addresses key aspects of Pakistani law, as well as its obligations under international law.

Pakistan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It also voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which states: "[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

According to the ICCPR, "[e]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference," and "[e]veryone shall have the right to freedom of expression." Freedom of expression under article 19 includes the "freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds." The right to impart information and ideas of all kinds clearly includes communicating and expressing religious opinions to others. Pakistan's blasphemy laws are, on their face, not only contradictory to these provisions, but restrict Pakistan's ability to fulfill obligations it has agreed to with the international community through the ICCPR.

Moreover, article 6 of the ICCPR limits the "sentence of death" to only "the most serious of crimes." Neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment is by any standard proportional punishment to the "crime" of blasphemy.

While the Supreme Court hearing Asia's appeal is a positive development in her case, it does not guarantee that Asia's conviction will be overturned. By becoming a party to the ICCPR Pakistan has voluntarily undertaken the obligation to ensure that religious freedom is guaranteed to all its citizens. Pakistan needs to honor its international legal obligations and release Asia Bibi.

In addition to this letter to Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.S., we are also sending similar emergency legal letters to Pakistan's Ambassador to the U.N., and the U.N. itself.

Source: aclj.org, October 16, 2016

425 executed since abolishment of moratorium on hanging


Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said a total of 425 people have been hanged since Pakistan resumed executions in December 2014.

Pakistan has hanged 425 people since the abolishment of moratorium on executions in terrorism-related cases, becoming one of the top countries in the world to hand down death sentence to convicts. "By executing 333 convicts in 2015 alone, Pakistan joined the ranks of the top executioners in the world. Courts continue to award capital punishment to suspects at a rapid rate," Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said. The commission said a total of 425 people have been hanged since Pakistan resumed executions in December 2014.

In the aftermath of the deadliest attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in December 2014, in which more than 150 people mostly children were killed, Pakistan had lifted a moratorium on executions in terrorism-related cases. "As many as 225 individuals had been sentenced in 2014 and 411 in 2015. The number of convictions had already reached 301 by the end of September this year," it said.

The HRCP has also demanded reform of the criminal justice system before continuing with the death penalty under the National Action Plan (NAP). "Owing to critical and well-documented deficiencies in the law and administration of justice, death penalty allows a very high probability of miscarriage of justice, which is unacceptable in any civilised society, particularly when the punishment was irreversible," said HRCP Secretary General I A Rehman.

"It is obvious that none of the reasons for stopping executions in 2008 have changed. Things have rather deteriorated. We have seen how real the possibility of hanging minors and mentally and physically challenged individuals can be," he said. Noting that "grave concerns" have arisen over the denial of fair trial and due process rights in trial by military courts, Rehman said in such circumstances it was imperative to immediately halt executions, restore the moratorium and move towards abolition of the death penalty.

He said "investigation methods" of police and chronic corruption also added to the troubles of those who were charged with capital offences. "The system of justice is loaded against the poor and lack of financial means put those accused of death penalty offences at a serious disadvantage," Rehman said.

Noting that religion is often invoked to justify capital punishment, he said yet in fact no more than a couple of the 27 death penalty offences on the statute books in Pakistan are mandated by religion. According to latest Amnesty International data on executions around the world, Pakistan is one of the 5 death penalty purveyors in the world, behind only China and Iran.

Source: The Indian Express, October 11, 2016

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