Pakistan: Demand the overturning of death sentences in blasphemy cases

Dr. Younus Shaikh, a peace activist and founder of the Progressive group 'Enlightenment', was a teacher at the Capital Medical College for Homeopathy, Islamabad. He was arrested on 5th October 2000 by the Islamabad police and charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. All petitions for bail were rejected by the Lower and High Courts. On 24 July 2001 the Multan Bench of Lahore High Court confirmed the death sentence of Ayub Masih, a Christian, in a blasphemy case. Ayub Masih of Arifwala, Distt. Sahiwal (Southern Punjab) was arrested on 14 October, 1996 on the charge of passing derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad. The appeal in one case is currently being heard while in the other case the appeal has already been turned down at the High Court level. It is therefore of the utmost urgence that all friends respond now to place pressure on the Pakistan authorities and ensure that these precious lives are not lost.
Reports from the country indicate that the Pakistan authorities are attempting to silence discussion of the issue at the national level. This makes it increasingly difficult for local organisations to mobilise public opinion and protest, and all the more important that organisations and individuals abroad demonstrate their solidarity. It is particularly crucial that protests come from friends in Muslim countries and communities. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) report that the barbaric blasphemy laws in Pakistan are an affront to civilisation. They are also mounting a protest outside the Pakistan High Commission on the 10th September. The hour-long demonstration will take place at 1.00pm outside the High Commission of Pakistan, 35 Lowndes Square, London SW1. The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) expresses its dismay over the recent verdict to award the death penalty to Dr. Younus Shaikh under the blasphemy law. Pressure must also be brought upon the Pakistan authorities to ensure that the blasphemy law, which is open to misuse both by fanatics and to settle personal quarrels, is repealed before further injustice is done.
Dr. Younus Shaikh, a peace activist and founder of the Progressive group 'Enlightenment', was a teacher at the Capital Medical College for Homeopathy, Islamabad. He was arrested on 5th October 2000 by the Islamabad police and charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. All petitions for bail were rejected by the Lower and High Courts.

On 4th October the leader of the local Majlis-i-Tahafuz-Khatm-i-Nabuwat (Organization for the Protection of the Finality of Prophethood) lodged a complaint that he had been given a photocopy of a statement signed by 11 students of the Capital Homeopathic College. The Majlis is a conservative organisation that is known to have harassed and attacked non-orthodox Muslims in the past.

The statement alleged that on 2nd October Dr. Younus Shaikh used sacrilegious words in class with reference to the Prophet Muhammad saying that the Prophet did not become a Muslim till the age of 40 (i.e. until he received the first revelation). Also, that as the Prophet's parents died before the Prophet declared his mission, they did not have the opportunity to accept Islam. Such an assertion has been discussed in various standard works on Islam, such as 'Hayat-e-Muhammad', by the famous Egyptian Islamic scholar and journalist Muhammad Hussain Heikal. The Urdu translation of this book was published by the Idara-e-Saqafat-e-Islamia (institute for Islamic Culture) Lahore, in 1988.

None of the complainants to the police were eyewitnesses to the alleged offence.

On 5th October 2000 police arrested Dr. Shaikh when he came to college. On 6th October 2000 Dr. Shaikh was sent to Adiala Jail, about 70 km from Islamabad. Local ulema (religious leaders) organised a demonstration against Dr. Shaikh in Islamabad in which about 60 to 70 people participated.

After two weeks in detention, Dr. Shaikh was presented to the court for formal identification. He was not supplied with a copy of the First Information Report (FIR - the first step in the registration of a case with police), and was not allowed to meet anyone. A group of fundamentalist clerics, including 20 representing the Majlis-i-Tahafuz-i-Khatm-i-Nabuwat, were present in the court throughout the open court trial, thus intimidating the judge and the defense. The group's leaders publicly responded to requests for withdrawal of the case with the threat that those making these requests would be accused of blasphemy. A huge crowd of clerics gathered and demonstrated outside the court room, asking for severe punishment for Dr. Shaikh. The last two sittings of the Court were however, held in camera in Adiala jail where Dr. Shaikh was held since his arrest.

On August 18, Dr. Shaikh was sentenced to death and fined an amount equivalent to US$ 1500. He was given a week's time to appeal in the High Court, as opposed to the usual 30 days. A progressive lawyer, Mr. Abid Hassan Minto has agreed to plead the case in High Court. Dr. Shaikh's family is also filing an appeal independently.

BACKGROUND TO THE AYUB MASIH CASE

On 24 July 2001 the Multan Bench of Lahore High Court confirmed the death sentence of Ayub Masih, a Christian, in a blasphemy case. Ayub Masih of Arifwala, Distt. Sahiwal (Southern Punjab) was arrested on 14 October, 1996 on the charge of passing derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad.

Ayub Masih had been convicted and given the mandatory death sentence and fined an amount equivalent to US$ 1500 on 20 April 1998. This case became internationally known when Bishop John Joseph, a Catholic Bishop (Faisalabad Diocese), offered self sacrifice on May 6, 1998 as protest against this verdict in the vicinity of the court at Sahiwal.
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International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
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International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)