Pakistan is still persecuting atheists and religious minorities with blasphemy charges, often trumped up because of personal disputes, which can result in life imprisonment or the death penalty.
Here are two current examples: an illiterate Christian couple facing death by hanging for allegedly sending a text message, whose appeal has been delayed, and an Ahmadi Muslim woman who has been arrested after a dispute over a donation that she gave to a local Mosque that returned it.
Atheist Ireland campaigned for the successful release of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by hanging when a dispute with neighbours was turned into a trumped-up blasphemy charge.
These blasphemy charges spread beyond the victims who are arrested. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both murdered for supporting Asia Bibi, and the lawyer for the Christian couple in this case has survived five murder attempts.
When the United Nations Human Rights Committee questioned Pakistan in 2017, Atheist Ireland brought a joint delegation along with the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Ireland to speak out for persecuted minorities in Pakistan.
Christian couple’s appeal delayed
A Christian couple facing death by hanging had their appeal delayed this week. They have already been in prison for six years since being convicted of blasphemy in 2014.
Shagufta Kausar was a cleaner at a Christian school, and her husband Shafqat Emmanuel is partially paralysed. Their children are in hiding in fear of attacks by violent mobs.
A local imam accused them of sending him an offensive text message in English in 2013. But their lawyer Khalil Tahir Sandhu says the couple are illiterate in Urdu and English.
Sandhu is a Catholic, an MP in the Punjabi Parliament, and Chairman of the Standing Committee on Human Rights and Minorities Affairs.
He has survived five murder attempts because he represents people accused of blasphemy, and he had to move his family to the UK due to threats on his life.
He says it is impossible to say for sure why they were charged, but it seems that the couple’s children had a petty dispute with the children of their neighbours.
Shagufta Kausar knew Asia Bibi as they were in the same prison. She and her husband now need the same solidarity from the international community that got Asia released.
Their appeal has been rescheduled for 22 June.
Ahmadi Muslim woman arrested
Ramzan Bibi, a 55-year-old Ahmadi Muslim woman, was arrested last month for blasphemy during a personal dispute after the charitable donation that she made to a local mosque was returned back to her.
There have been tensions within her family since she and others became Ahmadis. When she gave a donation to an event in the local Mosque which returned it to her.
When she asked a non-Ahmadi relative why the mosque had returned her donation, he assaulted her. When local clerics found out about this, they accused her of blasphemy.
This is typical of how blasphemy charges happen in Pakistan. The person charged is then in danger not only of criminal charges, but of being assaulted and murdered by violent mobs inspired by extremist clerics.
Ahmadi Muslims are in even more danger than other religious minorities and atheists, because the Sunni majority do not consider them to be Muslims, and the law explicitly discriminates against them in both private and public life.
In its 2020 Annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that Pakistan be designated a Country of Particular Concern because of the systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws.