Death Sentence of Two Christian Brothers over Blasphemy in Pakistan
Author: Fatima Orujova
Department: Pakistan Team
Pakistan is one of the countries where blasphemy carries punishment by death (Ahmed & Gulrajani, 2020). According to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (2016), Pakistan has the second-strictest blasphemy laws following Iran. Blasphemy allegations are made against religious minorities, primarily Hindus and Christians, in Muslim-majority Pakistan (Adetunji, 2021). It has been found that 760 individuals from various minority religious communities have been accused of blasphemy over the past twenty years (Ahmed & Gulrajani, 2020). In many cases, people blamed for blasphemy are murdered by local community members before the trial begins (Ahmed & Gulrajani, 2020).
Pakistan inherited its blasphemy laws from its British colonial rulers during the 1860s (Ahmed & Gulrajani, 2020). In 1974, the Pakistani parliament added to its constitution that anyone who does not recognise Muhammad as the final Prophet of Islam is not a Muslim (Ahmed & Gulrajani, 2020). During the ruling of General Muhammad Zia-Ul-Haq between 1978 and 1988, rules and laws when it comes to Islam became stricter (Ahmed & Gulrajani, 2020). Throughout the 1980s, laws became harsher, criminalising remarks against Islamic religious figures and charging the accused with up to a three years’ sentence (BBC News, 2019). In 1982, another amendment was enacted, declaring life imprisonment for desecration of the Quran and the death penalty or life imprisonment for blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad (BBC News, 2019).
On August 11th, 2016, Pakistan brought blasphemy laws into the digital sphere (Geo News, 2022a). The primary declaration of the law was that social media users would be imprisoned for up to three years for sharing fake news (Geo News, 2022a). On February 18th, 2022, Pakistan made an amendment to the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act (PECA) 2016 law, in which Pakistani authorities will have further rights to prosecute and detain individuals criticising the government’s actions or those who are seen as undermining moral and cultural values in Pakistan (Geo News, 2022b; Sherani, 2022). According to the amendment, the length of the imprisonment for those who are dissatisfied with the government, or its institutions has also been increased from three to five years (The News International, 2022). Besides, in the amendment, the term “person” includes not only individuals but also businesses, companies, and associations (The News International, 2022).
The Pakistani government stated that the amendment is crucial for protecting national security and preventing the spread of fake news (Geo News, 2022b). In general, the PECA law and the amendment of it in Pakistan have led to criticisms among minorities, journalists, political opponents, civil society, and human rights activists that have condemned it for violating the freedom of expression, free speech, and other basic human rights of citizens (Geo
News, 2022b; The Express Tribune, 2022). According to them, the laws to detain journalists and political activists who critique the government on the internet or their social media accounts (Sherani, 2022). The blasphemy laws are also used as a tool by the government to reinforce the values across the country (Sherani, 2022). This article will discuss the case of two Christian brothers who have recently been sentenced to death over blasphemy allegations.
- What happened to the Christian brothers?
On June 8th, 2022, the Lahore High Court upheld the death sentence of two Christian brothers (Lee, 2022). In 2011, Qaiser and Amoon Ayub, who resided in Talagang Chakwal district, around 300 kilometres from Lahore, in Pakistan’s Punjab province, were accused of sharing blasphemous content online and were arrested by Talagang police (The Hindu, 2022). Following the registration of the case, the brothers fled Pakistan, going to Singapore and then to Thailand (The Hindu, 2022). However, they failed to prolong their stay in these countries and thus returned to Pakistan in 2012 (The Hindu, 2022). They were arrested by the Pakistani police as soon as they arrived in the country (The Hindu, 2022). They have been in detention since 2014, and their appeal had been pending in Rawalpindi since 2018 until the recent declaration by the Lahore High Court.
The complaint was made by Muhammad Saeed, claimed that the brothers had insulted the Prophet Mohammad (The Hindu, 2022). Another assertion is that one of the brothers, Qaiser Ayub, had a quarrel with his co-worker at the office in 2011 due to a disagreement regarding a woman (The Hindu, 2022). The rivalry between the two led the co-worker to lie to the local police and make a false statement that the brothers had been involved in blasphemy (The Hindu, 2022).
In December 2018, Qaiser and Amoon were found guilty after standing trial and were sentenced to death (Lee, 2022). They were also required to pay a 100,00 Rupees (465.5 Euros) fine (Lee, 2022). In February 2022, a Pakistan-based Christian charity organisation, the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLASS), submitted an appeal to the High Court against the death sentence (Lee, 2022). The appeal by CLASS was heard in February 2022, and the Director of CLASS, Nasir Saeed, stated during the trial: “We all were hoping that because the court had reserved the verdict, and because they were taking so long to announce it, blasphemy charges against them would be dropped and both would be freed” (Lee, 2022).
However, the judgment upholding their death sentence was announced on June 8th, 2022; the Lahore High Court Rawalpindi bench, involving Justice Raja Shahid Mehmood Abbasi and Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz, dismissed the appeals of the convicts (The Hindu, 2022). The brothers, with their family and attorneys, are going to take the case to the Supreme Court. Rights activists hope the brothers will regain their freedom when the case appears in the
Supreme Court (Lee, 2022). Moreover, the brothers looked weak due to pre-existing health issues (Lee, 2022). Both brothers are married, and Qaisar Ayub has three children (The Hindu, 2022).
However, reportedly, there has been no case of judicial execution under the blasphemy laws in Pakistan thus far since the introduction of the law in 1986. Yet, many accused are murdered by mobs and Islamic groups before the courts make final judgments; it has been found that at least 75 accused have died during violent assaults by such groups over the past three decades (First Post, 2022). While, in recent years, there have been lots of cases in which accused have been sentenced to death penalty over blasphemy, there has been no further information on how their cases have proceeded and whether they have already been executed. Thus, it is challenging to make predictions on what the fate of the brothers will be after the final verdict of the Supreme Court.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws continue to jeopardise its people’s human rights, particularly those from religious minority communities. The laws have been shaped in a way that they endanger even the physical health of local Pakistanis. Besides, the Pakistani Constitution’s statement on freedom of speech does not safeguard speeches viewed as blasphemous. Moreover, recent cases of blasphemy allegations show that augmented religious regulation by the Pakistani government leads to more violence and other issues rather than less. Additionally, the laws have become tools for individuals to take revenge on someone by making false allegations and causing their imprisonment. Furthermore, questioning the legitimacy of blasphemy laws is increasingly seen as blasphemous. How Pakistan will handle these issues while guarding its identity as a Muslim-majority country remains to be seen in the future.
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