Sunday, 12 December 2010

Pakistan Christians face death for 'blasphemy'

Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi 'has price on her head'
By Orla Guerin
From: BBC News, Punjab province
7 December 2010

Ashiq Masih has the look of a hunted man - gaunt, anxious and exhausted.

Though he is guilty of nothing, this Pakistani labourer is on the run - with his five children.

His wife, Asia Bibi, has been sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam. That is enough to make the entire family a target.

They stay hidden by day, so we met them after dark.

Mr Masih told us they move constantly, trying to stay one step ahead of the anonymous callers who have been menacing them.

"I ask who they are, but they refuse to tell me," he said.

"They say 'we'll deal with you if we get our hands on you'. Now everyone knows about us, so I am hiding my kids here and there. I don't allow them to go out. Anyone can harm them," he added.

Ashiq Masih says his daughters still cry for their mother and ask if she will be home in time for Christmas.

He insists that Asia Bibi is innocent and will be freed, but he worries about what will happen next.

"When she comes out, how she can live safely?" he asks.

"No one will let her live. The mullahs are saying they will kill her when she comes out.

"Asia Bibi, an illiterate farm worker from rural Punjab, is the first woman sentenced to hang under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law.

'Old score'
As well as the death penalty hanging over her, Asia Bibi now has a price on her head.

A radical cleric has promised 500,000 Pakistani rupees (£3,700; $5,800) to anyone prepared to "finish her". He suggested that the Taliban might be happy to do it.

Asia Bibi's troubles began in June 2009 in her village, Ittan Wali, a patchwork of lush fields and dusty streets.

Hers was the only Christian household. She was picking berries alongside local Muslim women, when a row developed over sharing water.

Days later, the women claimed she had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. Soon, Asia Bibi was being pursued by a mob.

"In the village they tried to put a noose around my neck, so that they could kill me," she said in a brief appearance outside her jail cell.

Anarchy threat
Asia Bibi says she was falsely accused to settle an old score. That is often the case with the blasphemy law, critics say.

At the village mosque, we found no mercy for her.

The imam, Qari Mohammed Salim, told us he cried with joy when sentence was passed on Asia Bibi.

He helped to bring the case against her and says she will be made to pay, one way or the other.

"If the law punishes someone for blasphemy, and that person is pardoned, then we will also take the law in our hands," he said.

Her case has provoked concern abroad, with Pope Benedict XVI joining the calls for her release.

In Pakistan, Islamic parties have been out on the streets, threatening anarchy if she is freed, or if there is any attempt to amend the blasphemy law.

Under Pakistan's penal code, anyone who "defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet" can be punished by death or life imprisonment. Death sentences have always been overturned on appeal.

Human right groups and Christian organisations want the law abolished.

"It was designed as an instrument of persecution," says Ali Hasan Dayan, of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan. "It's discriminatory and abusive."

'Hanging sword'
While most of those charged under the law are Muslims, campaigners say it is an easy tool for targeting minorities, in this overwhelmingly Muslim state.

"It is a hanging sword on the neck of all minorities, especially Christians," says Shahzad Kamran, of the Sharing Life Ministry, which ministers to prisoners, including Asia Bibi.

"In our churches, homes and workplaces we feel fear," he says.

"It's very easy to make this accusation because of a grudge, or for revenge. Anyone can accuse you.

"Even our little children are afraid that if they say something wrong at school, they will be charged with blasphemy.

"Asia Bibi's story has sparked a public debate in Pakistan about reforming the law, but it is a touchy - and risky - subject which many politicians would prefer to ignore.

Campaigners fear that the talk about reform of the blasphemy laws will amount to no more than that.

Beheading threat
When Pakistan's Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, raised the issue six months ago, he was threatened with death.

"I was told I could be beheaded if I proposed any change," he told us.

"But I am committed to the principle of justice for the people of Pakistan. I am ready to die for this cause, and I will not compromise".

Mr Bhatti, himself a Christian, hopes that Asia Bibi will win an appeal to the High Court, or be pardoned by Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari.

He says she is one of dozens of innocent people who are accused every year.

"I will go to every knock for justice on her behalf and I will take all steps for her protection".

But even behind bars Asia Bibi may not be safe.

Several people accused of blasphemy have been killed in jail.

Thirty-four people connected with blasphemy cases have been killed since the law was hardened in 1986, according to Pakistan's Justice and Peace Commission, a Catholic campaign group.

The death toll includes those accused, their relatives, and even a judge.

In a neglected graveyard by a railway track in the city of Faisalabad, we found two of the latest victims of the blasphemy law.

'Electric shock'
They are brothers, buried side by side, together in death, as they were in life.

Rashid Emmanuel was a pastor.

His brother, Sajid, was an MBA student. They were gunned down in July during their trial - inside a courthouse, in handcuffs and in police custody.

Relatives, who asked not to be identified, said the blasphemy charges were brought because of a land dispute.

After the killings, the extended family had to leave home and move to another city. They say they will be moving again soon.

"We don't feel safe," one relative told us.

"We are shocked, like an electric shock. We are going from one place to another to defend ourselves, and secure our family members.

"Once a month they come to the cemetery to pray at the graves of their lost loved ones.

They are too frightened to visit more often.

They bow their heads and mourn for two men who they say were killed for nothing - except being Christian.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Taiwan justice minister willing to hang

New justice minister faces up to death penalty controversy

From: Focus Taiwan News Channel
22 March 2011

Taipei, March 22 (CNA) Taiwan's new justice minister Tseng Yung-fu, who entered office Monday under pressure to address a recent controversy over the death penalty, said enforcing capital punishment would not violate United Nations human rights conventions.

Former Justice Minister Wang Ching-feng was forced to resign on March 11, after her insistence on not signing off on the executions of 44 inmates currently on death row sparked outrage from victims' families and some legislators.

The furor died down while acting Minister Huang Shih-ming temporarily held the post, but public pressure remained to name a new justice minister who would be willing to see the executions through, even if the country has not carried out an execution of a death penalty inmate since late 2005.

Asked if carrying out the death penalty would not violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) , which Taiwan has signed into law, Tseng said the covenant only hopes that countries reduce the use of capital punishment.

That has happened in Taiwan, Tseng said, citing the reduction in the number of death sentences meted out and the elimination of laws in which the death penalty is the only punishment option.

"Carrying out a death penalty cannot be considered as violating the treaties," Tseng said.

He indicated that there was no deadline binding the minister of justice to sign the execution orders of the 44 death row inmates but said those who were sentenced to death for the most heinous of crimes would have their cases reviewed first.

Despite the controversy, a ministry task force on studying ways to abolish capital punishment will hold its first meeting Tuesday as scheduled, and the ministry will conduct a survey every six months to gauge public opinion on the issue.

At Monday's handover ceremony, acting Minister Huang praised Wang for her enthusiasm and lauded her as an official who stood up for principles.

"It was to everyone's regret that she left," Huang said.

Meanwhile, Tseng also pledged that he would promote a mechanism during his tenure that would make it possible to dismiss incompetent judicial personnel.

"He who laughs at crooked men better walk very straight, " he stressed.

Tseng, 67, a former deputy justice minister, has served as chief prosecutor in Taipei and Tainan cities and Taitung, Yunlin and Chiayi counties as well as the outlying island of Kinmen.

He has also served as the chief prosecutor with the Public Prosecutors Office for the Taiwan High Court and as the Ministry of Justice's chief secretary.

(By An Chi-hsien and Elizabeth Hsu)

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Indonesia: Australian faces capital charge

Australian man faces death penalty
November 26, 2010

AUSTRALIAN man Michael Sacatides faces the death penalty in Indonesia after being formally charged with drug importation offences yesterday.

Sacatides, 43, was caught with 1.7 kilograms of methamphetamine in his luggage at Bali's airport last month.

He maintains his innocence.

Bali police handed a dossier of evidence to prosecutors yesterday, who charged Sacatides with importing drugs, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of death by firing squad.

Sacatides is a kickboxing instructor who hails from Sydney but lived in Bangkok for several years.

He was moved to Kerobokan prison on October 27 and will join three other Australians on death row for drug offences.

Scott Rush, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have legal appeals in train.Sacatides is expected to front a Denpasar court next month.

He has previously told police a man who gave him the bag containing the drugs was a former business associate.


Pakistan: "Extreme" blasphemy laws need reform

An instrument of abuse?
by annie on 11 26th, 2010

The death sentence handed down to Pakistani Christian woman Aasia Bibi by a court in Punjab province's Nankana district has once again brought attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. And while the 45-year-old mother of five awaits a review of the verdict against her, questions are being raised regarding the intent behind and utility of the said laws.

While the Constitution of Pakistan criminalises "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage" the religious sentiments of "any" community, the blasphemy laws, in the form of additions to Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), proceed to recommend much more exacting penalties, including death, if the accused is found to be either disrespectful toward or critical of the Quran, Prophet Mohammad, Islam’s caliphs and other important figures mentioned in the statutes. These particular laws therefore do not stand up for religions other than Islam thereby rendering defenceless other religious communities. Moreover, the laws' provisions pertaining to the Ahmedi community in many ways constrain them from practicing their religion. Forbidden from calling themselves, or "posing" as, Muslims, the legislation makes abundantly clear, albeit circuitously, that their faith should not be what it is.

It was in the early 1980s and during the regime of former military dictator Ziaul Haq that committing blasphemy was made a penal offence under the PPC. In its current state, the law prescribes a jail term for anyone found disrespectful toward the Quran and death penalty for anyone found to be reproachful of Prophet Mohammad. Oddly enough, while the question of intent is not considered when it comes to the latter offence, it continues to remain punishable by nothing short of the death penalty. The blasphemy laws also prescribe a fine and a prison term with regard to penal offences associated with the Ahmedi community.

Having survived for nearly three decades in its current and extreme form, the blasphemy laws have so far escaped all reform due to opposition from religio-political groups. At the same time, other, essentially secular, political groups have been succumbing to these hardline forces mostly out of fear of losing clout in regions with conservative leanings and where religious organisations seem to enjoy a considerable degree of influence. Even at this point, with the international community ramping up pressure on the government to pardon Aasia and to eventually repeal the blasphemy laws, certain otherwise antagonistic clerics from the Barelvi and Deobandi schools of thought have come together to caution President Asif Ali Zardari over going ahead with the pardon saying the move may lead to "untoward repercussions".

While the sentencing of Aasia has led to much international uproar, hers is just one of the many cases which have led to blasphemy convictions by the courts. Moreover, many of the blasphemy accused – mostly from the unprotected religious minority groups – have been targeted and sometimes killed by lynch mobs. The still recent killing of two Christian brothers in Faisalabad, the case of Zaibunnisa who remained incarcerated for 14 long years on blasphemy allegations and the violence that targeted Christians in Gojra in 2009 are just some of the recently reported instances which clearly depict how such laws have effectively abandoned the country's religious minorities and emboldened extremists.

These and similar other incidents have inevitably led to questions pertaining to the rationale behind the laws as well as to their outcome in terms of greater social good. And while the laws are frequently used to blackmail and victimise Pakistan's miniscule religious minorities, they also come in handy by those wanting to settle personal scores, sort business rivalries and tackle land disputes with other Muslims. Rights groups have continually demanded that the laws be repealed and have referred to the statutes as fundamentally unjust and discriminatory in nature.

Moreover, legal experts and analysts have frequently termed the text of the laws as vague and even flawed in ways that make it a ready instrument of abuse. Incompatible with the universally accepted human rights charter, the laws and their application also stand in clear violation of the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantees every citizen the "right to profess, practice and propagate" his/her religion and in fact forbids the state from making "any law which takes away" the citizens' fundamental rights.

Given the fact that the blasphemy laws have only served to fuel disharmony and strife in society, a thorough review of the legislation, followed by significant changes to it, can be the first small step toward countering the culture of exploitation that has become all-too-synonymous with these laws.

Qurat ul ain Siddiqui is the Desk Editor at

China claims one tenth overturned

China: 10 percent of death sentences overturned
Fri, Nov 26, 2010
From: China Daily/Asia News Network

Beijing - China's top court has overturned, on average, 10 percent of all death sentences nationwide since 2007 when it took back the right of final review from lower courts, a senior court official said.

Hu Yunteng, head of the research department under the Supreme People's Court (SPC), said regaining the review "played an obvious role" in reducing the number of executions.

"It has ensured that the death penalty can only be applied for the most serious crimes," he told China Daily.

But Hu declined to specify the number of death sentences carried out each year.

In 1981, to tackle rising crime, the highest court granted provincial courts the authority to pass death sentences.

The practice, widely criticized following reports of miscarriages of justice, ended on Jan 1, 2007, when the SPC was again given the sole power to review and ratify death sentences.

Hu said death sentences were overturned mostly for lack of evidence, procedural flaws or for an inappropriate penalty.

"The SPC will not tolerate any mistakes regarding evidence or procedure and will thoroughly investigate" questionable judgments, he said, adding that the quality of local courts' handling of death penalty cases is improving.

"We must make sure the use of the death sentence is accurate and free of mistakes to respect and protect the convicts and their rights."

Earlier, Zhang Jun, SPC vice-president, told judicial departments to only impose a death penalty for the most heinous crimes.

The SPC also increased its criminal tribunals from two to five to better examine all death sentences passed, Hu said.

The SPC also ordered that all cases that carried a possible death penalty must be heard at a court session, with the defendant or defendants in attendance, he added.

The move "prevents unjust, false or invalid cases on the one hand and, on the other hand, respects the rights of defendants", he said.

About 90 percent of death sentences passed are for serious crimes ranging from intentional homicide, robbery, serious injury, rape, drug trafficking to kidnapping, according to Hu.

In August, the National People's Congress, the top legislature, dropped the death penalty for 13 economy related, non-violent crimes in the latest amendment to the country's Criminal Law.

Hu said the SPC "strongly supports" the move as it has sent "a positive signal for strictly controlling the imposition of a death penalty".

Despite these moves, he said, the final review still faces challenges, including the use of torture as well as poor standards among some rural judges.

In one of the country's most notorious forced-confession cases, Zhao Zuohai, after serving 11 years in prison, was released in early May after the man he was alleged to have murdered turned up alive.

The Henan farmer said the police tortured him into making a confession.

Zhao Bingzhi, head of the criminal law research committee under the China Law Society, said it's essential for the SPC to classify and summarize cases where the death penalty has been overturned and then release them to guide lower courts.

"What's more, the SPC should go beyond only examining evidence, and establish rules to better define serious crimes where the death penalty is applicable to ensure its appropriate use," he said.

-China Daily/Asia News Network

Japan: Lay judges sentence 'minor' to death

Lay judges choose ultimate penalty for minor
From: The Yomiuri Shimbun
27 November 2010

A panel of three professional and six lay judges at the Sendai District Court on Thursday sentenced to death a minor who killed two women and seriously injured a man earlier this year.

"Considering the brutality of his crime and the gravity of the harm he caused, we have no option but to choose the ultimate penalty," presiding Judge Nobuyuki Suzuki said.

This is the first death sentence handed down to a minor under the lay judge system since it began last year. Many consider the ruling to be in keeping with the recent trend to toughen punishments for juvenile offenders.

It will likely affect future rulings in lay judge trials dealing with similar cases.

Because the defendant, a former demolition worker, pleaded guilty to the charges against him, the focal point of his trial became what punishment was appropriate. In other words, the judges had to decide whether to rule that he could be rehabilitated and thereby avoid capital punishment, or to give weight to the brutality of his crime and impose the death penalty

Ultimately, the ruling condemned the defendant for committing his crimes in a "relentless, ruthless and particularly atrocious" manner.

Furthermore, the court decided that the defendant's statements of apology were "superficial" and "shallow." It said he has an "extremely low possibility of rehabilitation," and the court could find no reason not to hand down the death sentence.

The crimes took place in February in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. The defendant, who was 18 years and seven months old at the time, broke into his former girlfriend's house and tried to abduct her. When her elder sister and a friend tried to stop him, he killed them with a butcher knife.

The defendant also seriously injured a man who was present. At the time, he was on probation for injuring his own mother.


Tougher penalties sought
The Juvenile Law, which has as its basic principles the sound growth and protection of juveniles, was revised in 2000. The changed law made charges of deliberate murder by minors aged 16 or older subject to criminal trials, in principle, because the frequent occurrence of heinous crimes committed by minors has heightened public calls to toughen punishments for juvenile offenders.

The change in the sentence given to a minor who killed a young mother and her baby daughter in Hikari, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in 1999 symbolizes the trend toward harsher penalties for juvenile criminals.

The Hiroshima High Court handed down a ruling of life imprisonment to the defendant, who committed the murders at the age of 18, but the Supreme Court rejected this sentence and sent the case back to the high court.

In its second trial on the murders, the high court sentenced the defendant to death.

In the Miyagi case, the ruling said the defendant's age was not a decisive reason to avoid meting out capital punishment. This reflects the Supreme Court's thinking on the ruling in the mother-daughter murder case.


Lay judge 'almost crushed'
According to a survey compiled by the Supreme Court in 2006, more than 90 percent of professional judges said they would commute a sentence if a defendant was a minor. But half of ordinary citizens polled replied they would neither toughen nor commute a sentence against a juvenile defendant.

Only one-quarter said they would commute a sentence for a juvenile offender.

The results appear to illustrate the public's harsh view on juvenile crimes.

"I was almost crushed under the heavy pressure," said one of the lay judges, who agreed to be questioned at a press conference after the ruling in the Miyagi case. "I want the court to provide mental care for lay judges for as long as necessary."

These are serious problems the court faces every time lay judges have to hand down a heavy sentence.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 26, 2010)
(Nov. 27, 2010)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Indonesia: Bali prosecutors claim deterrence

Push for Bali nine execution
November 20, 2010
From: The Sydney Morning Herald online

INDONESIAN prosecutors yesterday urged that the Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran be executed, saying the punishment was just, supported by the Indonesian people and would act as a deterrent.

The prosecution argument concluded the hearings of the final legal appeal by the members of the so-called Bali nine heroin smuggling syndicate against the death penalty.

Chan and Sukumaran, who were not in court, have asked for their sentence to be commuted to a 20-year prison term, citing their rehabilitation in prison and that the crime was not serious enough to warrant the death sentence given Indonesia's recognition of the sanctity of life.

But the prosecutors argued: "Every human has the right to live but upholding this right doesn't mean they are allowed to violate someone else's rights… Sentencing is not only to rehabilitate, but also to deter."

Chan and Sukumaran can expect to hear the verdict in about six months, after the evidence from the Bali hearings has been sent to Jakarta and considered by a panel of judges.

The prosecutors agreed with the defence, that only the most serious crime should receive the death penalty, but said arranging the export of more than eight kilograms of heroin fitted into that category.

The prosecution's assessment was not unexpected. It is required to defend the decision of the previous court and the duo has been consistently handed the death sentence in each court case so far.

In the Australians' favour is that executions have not been carried out in Indonesia in the two years since a Constitutional Court ruling found the punishment should be used sparingly and those on death row should be given the chance to rehabilitate.

Indonesia: Bali prosecutors argue for death

Prosecutors urge death penalty for Bali 9 ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran
From: AAP (in The Australian online)
November 19, 2010 4:45PM

INDONESIAN prosecutors have called on the country's supreme court to uphold the death sentences of Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Prosecutor Siti Sawiyah said today that death by firing squad was the appropriate punishment for the Sydney drug traffickers and that their final appeal - known as a judicial review - should be thrown out of court.

"These man have committed a crime that was organised, with a neatly arranged plan, it was orderly and secretive," Ms Sawiyah told the Denpasar District Court.

"The Indonesian Supreme Court in Jakarta, which will examine this case should ... reject the judicial review."

Fellow prosecutor Ida Ayu Sulasmi said the death penalty was necessary to deter others from committing similar crimes.

"The Indonesian people and society, especially the people of Bali, consider Bali a tourist destination and illegal distribution of narcotics is a serious threat that could alter the image of Bali tourism," she said.

Chan, 26, and Sukumaran, 29, were two of nine Australians convicted over a 2005 attempt to smuggle more than eight kilograms of heroin out of Bali.

Their judicial review seeks to have their death sentences reduced to 20 years' prison.

Appeal hearings have been held in the Denpasar court, but the case will now be sent to the supreme court for a verdict.

The appeal rests in large part on evidence the men have been successfully rehabilitated and are now role models inside prison.

It also argues previous rulings against the men erred by finding them guilty of exporting drugs, even though they were caught before exportation actually occurred.

If the appeal fails, the pair will be forced to seek clemency from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who generally takes a dim view of drug smugglers.Fellow Bali Nine death row inmate Scott Rush's judicial review is also currently before the supreme court.

Five other members of the drug smuggling plot - Martin Stephens, Matthew Norman, Michael Czugaj, Si Yi Chen and Tan Duc Than Nguyen - are serving life sentences.

The final member of the drug ring, courier Renae Lawrence, is serving a 20-year sentence.

Appeal: End death penalty in East Asia

The Centre for Prisoners' Rights and Amnesty International Japan continue to appeal for people to sign their petition and distribute it widely, calling for the abolition of the death penalty in East Asia.

Please print and sign the petition available here. The text of the petition is copied below.

Citizens’ Appeal for an Abolition of the Death Penalty in East Asia
December 2009

People’s Republic of China, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Socialist Republic of Vietnam, State of Mongolia, Taiwan

(CC: Republic of Korea, Republic of the Philippines, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China)

In 2008, most of the executions in the world were carried out in Asia. 11 countries in Asia as a whole, and five countries in East Asia, namely, China, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam, continue to have the death penalty.

China alone accounts for about three quarters of the executions in the world and at least 1,718 death sentences were carried out.

In China, statistics on the death penalty and executions are a state secret, so the actual number is considered to be significantly higher than that.

In Vietnam, the death penalty is stipulated as the maximum sentence for a total of 29 offences defined in the criminal code, including illicit drug trafficking. Executions are by firing squad.

In Japan, there are currently more than 100 death-row inmates awaiting their executions. Executions by hanging in Japan are carried out secretively and the death-row inmates are notified of their execution only immediately before they take place.

In the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, executions are either by firing squad or by hanging. Executions are conducted secretively but there is an indication that public executions are conducted for the purpose of making an example to the people.

In Mongolia, executions are a state secret and official statistics, such as the numbers of death sentences, executions, and death-row inmates, are not disclosed. Executions are conducted secretively. The family members of the death-row inmate are not notified of the execution beforehand. After the execution, the body is not returned to the family.

On the other hand, as of 2009, 139 states in the world have abolished the death penalty. In Asia as a whole, 27 states, such as the Philippines and Cambodia, have abolished the death penalty either de jure or de facto.

In the 20th century, many lives were taken in East Asia by the state or because of ideology. The death penalty has been used to impose the will of the state and as a tool of political repression. The state is still taking away the lives of the citizens by way of the death penalty. To put an end to this situation, East Asian states should renounce the state-sponsored violence known as the death penalty.

There are no empirical data verifying that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on heinous crimes. On the contrary, it is pointed out that the death penalty promotes violence.

In any country, those that are sentenced to death are skewed to vulnerable groups in the society, such as those in poverty and minorities. What gives rise to crimes in many cases is often poverty and social discrimination. Removing offenders from society by the death penalty does not solve the problem.

Having recognized the issues inherent in the death penalty system, we the signers below are petitioning for the realization of an East Asia without the death penalty.

We hereby request that:
* the taking of lives not be used as a means of punishment;
* the innocent not be killed;
* information be disclosed so that we can think for ourselves whether the death penalty is necessary;
* those that have erred not be cast away; and
* a society with few crimes be created without relying on the death penalty.

We the citizens hope for a truly peaceful society. We the citizens hope for a society without the death penalty. We the citizens hope for a tolerant society. Please heed our voices, the voices of the citizens.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty. Taking note of the significance of the 20th anniversary, we call on the East Asian states that retain capital punishment to abolish the death penalty system.


The petition organized and collected by:

The "We Can Do Without the Death Penalty" Campaign
Joint Secretariat:
Center for Prisoners' Rights Japan and Amnesty International Japan
Kyodo Bldg. 4F, 2-2 Kandanishiki-cho, chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan 101-0054
Fax +81-3-3518-6778

The “We Can Do Without the Death Penalty” campaign was launched in 2008 in Japan, aiming to raise a voice and to think together about what is wrong with the death penalty, setting aside various differences. The Center for Prisoners’ Rights Japan and Amnesty International Japan serve as the joint secretariat and various other organizations, individuals, and networks participate in this campaign.

Urgent appeal: Pakistani woman sentenced to death

UA: 241/10 Index: ASA 33/011/2010
Date: 18 November 2010

Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, has been sentenced to death under the country’s blasphemy laws.

On 8 November, the 45-year-old mother of five children was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death under Section 295B and 295C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, by a court in Nankana, around 75km (45 miles) west of the city of Lahore in Punjab province.

Aasia Bibi, a resident of Ittanwali, was arrested in June 2009. She was working as a farm labourer and was asked by a village elder’s wife to fetch drinking water. Some other female Muslim farmhands reportedly refused to drink the water, saying it was sacrilegious and “unclean” to accept water from Aasia Bibi, as a non-Muslim. Aasia Bibi took offence, reportedly saying: “are we not human?” which led to an argument between them. The women allegedly complained to Qari Salim, the local cleric, that Aasia Bibi had made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad. The cleric informed local police who arrested and charged her with insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Aasia Bibi denies the allegations and her husband, Ashiq Masih, claims her conviction was based on “false accusations”. However, the trial judge, Naveed Iqbal, “totally ruled out” the possibility of false charges and said that there were “no mitigating circumstances”. Aasia Bibi has now filed an appeal against the judgment in the Lahore High Court. She has been detained in prison and held in isolation since June 2009. She has claimed that she has not had access to a lawyer during her detention and the final day of her trial.

PLEASE WRITE IMMEDIATELY in English, Urdu or your own language:
* calling on President Zardari to commute the death sentence use his powers under Article 45 of the Constitution;
* calling for the immediate release of Aasia Bibi, unless she is charged with internationally regognizable offences and tried in proceedings and under laws that meet international human rights standards;
* calling on the authorities to take immediate measures to guarantee the safety of Aasia Bibi and her family;
* expressing concern that the blasphemy laws are used indiscriminately against religious minorities and Muslims alike, and urging the government to amend or abolish laws, particularly section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code which carries the death penalty for anyone found guilty of blasphemy;
* calling on the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take Suo Moto notice of the case;
* urging the government to fulfil its pledge to review and improve “laws detrimental to religious harmony”, announced by Prime Minister Giliani in August 2009; and
* calling for an immediate moratorium on all executions in the country, in line with the worldwide trends to abolish the death penalty with a view to an eventual abolition of the death penalty.

President Zardari
Pakistan Secretariat, Islamabad, Pakistan
Fax: +92-51-9207458
Salutation: Dear President Zardari

Dr. Zaheeruddin Babar Awan
Federal Minister
Ministry of Law, Justice & Parliamentary Affairs
Room 305, S-Block, Pakistan Secretariat, Islamabad, Pakistan
Fax: +92 51 9202628
Salutation: Dear Minister

Copies to:
Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry
Chief Justice of Pakistan
Supreme Court of Pakistan
Islamabad, Pakistan
Fax: +92-51-9213452
Salutation: Dear Chief Justice Chaudhry

Copies to (for letters from Australia):
Her Excellency Miss Fauzia NASREEN
High Commissioner
High Commission for Pakistan
4 Timbarra Crescent
O'Malley ACT 2606
Fax: (02) 6290 1073
Salutation: Your Excellency

Please check with if sending appeals after the above date.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Japan: Lay judges give first death sentence

Lay judge duty takes a heavy toll / Concern over psychological cost of participating in death penalty cases
Fumio Tanaka and Eiji Kaji / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers
From Daily Yomiuri Online

The first death sentence under the lay judge system was handed down Tuesday at the Yokohama District Court. It is hard to imagine how much anguish and mental stress the panel of citizen judges experienced in deciding a man who killed two others deserved capital punishment.

Hiroyuki Ikeda, 32, was sentenced to death after being convicted of robbery, murder and abandoning the bodies of the victims.

At a press conference held after the court handed down the sentence, a man in his 50s who served as a lay judge in the trial was asked whether the three-day period of deliberations had been sufficient.

"It's hard to say," he said, declining to give a definite answer.

Court deliberations on cases in which prosecutors demand capital punishment generally continue for more than one year before a sentence is handed down.

"I kept looking at the accused, thinking over and over whether a death sentence really was appropriate," said Fumio Yasuhiro, 66, a former senior judge at the Tokyo High Court. "The lay judges had to make a grave decision in a short period of time. They had a hard task."

Just before concluding the proceedings, presiding Judge Yoshifumi Asayama made an unusual remark to the condemned man, saying, "The court recommends you appeal the ruling.

"During the trial, Ikeda said he would accept any punishment, so the judge's final remark was read by some observers as an expression of the lay judges' desire that the death sentence not be finalized based on their judgement alone.

A senior prosecution official was critical of the judge's remark, saying, "[The nine judges] should take responsibility for the conclusion they came to after extended discussion.

"Yasuhiro, though, thought the judge's action was understandable.

"The fact that there are opportunities for appeal probably does lessen the burden on the lay judges. There will probably be similar remarks made by judges in the future," Yasuhiro said.

Under the jury trial system in the United States, a 12-member panel is in principle tasked merely with deciding whether the accused is guilty. In many states, however, juries also assess criminal culpability in cases where the prosecution requests the death penalty.

Surveys taken in the 1990s of people who had served on U.S. juries that decided in favor of the death penalty found many had suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, insomnia and headaches.

In death penalty cases heard by juries in the United States, the criteria and procedures for assessing culpability are stipulated in detail. In Texas the process is particularly clear-cut, with jurors instructed to base their decision on just three criteria, one of which is "whether the accused would be a continuing threat to society."

Futoshi Iwata, professor of law at Sophia University, said that while such a simplified system "is designed to leave little room for anguish" for jurors, it also has demerits.

"Giving the death penalty can only be justified if a jury has reached that conclusion after truly grappling with the case. The issues involved are not so simple that they can be addressed with standardized procedures," Iwata said.

===Requirements for a decision

In a statement issued after Tuesday's ruling, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations said, "It is time to discuss how verdicts should be reached in cases where prosecutors demand the death penalty.

"In Japan, a majority of the nine-member panel--three professional and six lay judges--is required for the death penalty to apply.

In the United States, the death penalty cannot be applied without the unanimous support of the 12-member jury, a system some experts believe places a lesser psychological burden on jurors.

A veteran Japanese judge said the emotional and psychological impact on lay judges involved in handing down a death sentence would be less if the decision was made unanimously.

"Cases need to be discussed thoroughly, until all [nine] judges agree. If I were involved as a [professional] judge, I'd try as much as possible to avoid handing down a death penalty when opinion was split," the veteran judge said.

Keiko Kiyohara, mayor of Mitaka, western Tokyo, was a member of the governmental study panel that devised the lay judge system.

"Initially I asserted that, considering the possibility of mental stress, lay judges should handle a relatively lighter case before being involved in a death penalty trial," she has said.

As the panel's discussions progressed, however, she changed her mind.

"It is particularly important that the sensibilities of members of the public should be reflected in trials that decide whether a person lives or dies," Kiyohara said.

At Tuesday's press conference, the same man who served as a citizen judge in the Ikeda trial expressed his support for lay judges' participation in death penalty trials.

"I've learned a great deal by serving as a lay judge. For the purpose of fairly assessing culpability, it's a good thing."

(Nov. 18, 2010)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Malaysia: Legal questions over death penalty

Death penalty losing appeal

From The Star online
Wednesday 17 November, 2010

The trend worldwide is to move away from the death penalty, acknowledging that the quality of our civilisation is judged as much by how we honour our heroes as by how we treat the worst in our midst.

DURING question time in the Dewan Rakyat on Nov 9, Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz, our articulate Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, in replying to MP Karpal Singh, defended the existing law on death penalty by pointing out that the Malaysian position is consistent with Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.

Under this celebrated Covenant, there is no absolute ban on death sentences. However, the "inherent right to life" is recognised and the death sentence may be imposed "only for the most serious crimes".

There must be a right of appeal to the higher courts and the right to apply for pardon. The death sentence should not be imposed on pregnant women and those below 18.

In a spirit of openness, the minister welcomed further discussion on the issue. This must be commended. At the same time, we must alert the Government that on several scores Malaysian law is out of sync with a growing body of international law on capital punishment.

The trend throughout the world is to move away from the death penalty. The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by 57 states, commits itself to total abolition.

European and American Conventions have also moved in that direction. The UN Commission on Human Rights by Resolution 2004/67 has called for a moratorium on executions.

According to Amnesty International, 87 countries and territories have abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Eleven countries have abolished it for all but exceptional crimes such as war-time betrayals. Twenty-seven countries retain the death penalty but have not carried out any execution for the past 10 years.

This makes a total of 125 countries that have moved away from the death penalty in law or practice. However 71 other countries – including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US, Malaysia and Singapore – retain, and use, the death penalty.

It is also notable that even for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide triable by the International Criminal Tribunals created by the United Nations Security Council for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

In most countries of the world, drug offences are not regarded as sufficiently serious to warrant a death penalty. However, drug trafficking carries the mandatory death sentence under section 39B of our Dangerous Drugs Act.

Under Section 37, a number of crushing presumptions apply. For example, a person in the care or management of a premises is deemed to be the occupier of the premises.

A person in possession of 15 grammes of heroin or morphine, 1000 grammes of opium, 200 grammes of cannabis and specified amounts of other dangerous drugs shall be presumed to be a trafficker. The burden of proof is on him.

Reprehensible though drug possession and trafficking are, a clear fact is that people who get caught are often not involved in the high ranks of the supply chain. The main players are neither apprehended nor deterred.

A further objectionable feature of our death penalty laws is that for the crimes of murder, drug trafficking, unlawful possession of firearms and attempt by a life-convict to murder if hurt is caused, capital punishment is mandatory and the court has no choice but to impose the penalty of death.

All mandatory punishment laws compel the courts to treat the many accused as alike even though there may be substantial differences in the facts of the case.

For example, if a woman has been raped and the culprit is, for whatever reason, either not apprehended or acquitted, and the ravished victim then takes the law in her own hands and kills the accused, she may be convicted of cold-blooded murder with only one penalty: mandatory death.

Surely the judge should have discretion in such a case to impose the lighter sanction of imprisonment. To the extent that unlike cases have to be treated as alike, mandatory sentences are a violation of the constitutional ideal of equality before the law and equal protection of the law.

Mandatory sentences are also an indirect interference with judicial independence and the right of a judge to tailor the penalty to suit the crime; to temper justice with mercy and to be fair to all sides – the victim of the crime, the accused and society at large.

Many judges in their private moments have spoken with remorse of the death sentences they had to impose even though there were extenuating circumstances.

There is overwhelming evidence that as long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated. For example, in the US, since 1973, 123 prisoners have been released after evidence emerged of their innocence of crimes for which they were sentenced to death.

Their sentences were based on prosecutorial or police misconduct, forced confessions, unreliable witnesses and inadequate defence representation.

The argument that the death penalty deters is not supported by sufficient scientific studies. This is specially so in relation to murder, which is often a crime in the heat of the moment when consequences are farthest from contemplation. Further, UN studies indicate that abolitionist countries do not show any upsurge in crime.

There is a fair amount of social data that, around the world, the death penalty is unequally administered. It tends to apply disproportionately to the poor, marginalised and the minorities.

In support of capital punishment, one could argue that no known legal system exhibits an unconditional and absolute reverence for life.

Everywhere there are laws on private defence of person and property, euthanasia, abortion and police powers that permit the extinguishing of life in certain circumstances. The Charter of the UN permits some types of wars.

Society must take a tough stand against violent crimes and must exact revenge or retribution. It is submitted that this attitude must be balanced with an equally compelling ethical issue that as God gives life, only He should take it away.

The death penalty is a form of legalised murder. It reflects primordial instincts of violence. It perpetuates a vicious cycle of brutality.

I think Malaysia should rethink its extensive provisions for death penalty. At the moment, the penalty can be imposed for a large number of offences – waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, offences against a Ruler or Governor, abetting mutiny in the armed forces, murder, abetment of suicide, attempt by a life-convict to murder if hurt is caused, kidnapping or abduction in order to murder, hostage taking, gang robbery with murder, drug trafficking and unlawful possession of firearms.

Even if total abolition is not seen as desirable because of the age of terrorism in which we are living in, a narrowing down of the offences for which the death penalty is imposed can be considered. The mandatory nature of the penalty could be lifted and judicial discretion restored.

We must remember that the quality of our civilisation is judged as much by how we honour our heroes as by how we treat the worst in our midst.

Shad Saleem Faruqi is Professor Emeritus at UiTM and Honorary Legal Advisor to USM

Pakistan: Pope appeals for blasphemy accused

Pope calls for release of Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death
By Sarah Delaney
Catholic News Service, 17 November 2010

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI called for the release of a 37-year-old Christian woman who faces the death penalty in Pakistan after being convicted on charges of blasphemy.

"I express my spiritual closeness to Asia Bibi and her family and ask that she soon regain her full liberty," the pope said at the regular weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square Nov. 17.

Bibi was convicted Nov. 14 by a Pakistani court for an alleged offense to the Islamic prophet Mohammed, news reports said.

The pope said, "the international community is following the difficult situation of Christians in Pakistan with great concern."

He also said he prayed "for all those who find themselves in similar situations" and asked "that their human dignity and fundamental rights are fully respected."

In an interview Nov. 17 with Vatican Radio, Peter Jacob, executive secretary of the National Commission for Justice and Peace of the Pakistani Bishops Conference, said, "the death sentence has shocked the civil society here," which he added, "is very active."

He said there were "a number of appeals going on -- signature campaigns -- to make the authorities, the prime minister and parliament aware of people's sentiment that this injustice is not acceptable to the people of Pakistan."

Vatican Radio said that the charges against Bibi had been lodged following an argument with some Muslim women.

Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, reported that Bibi's family had appealed to the high court in Lahore, Pakistan, hoping to overturn the sentence determined by a lower court in the district of Nankana Sahib.

Avvenire said that it was the first time a woman had been sentenced to death under the blasphemy law.

Local Catholics have said in news reports that the law is often abused and Avvenire said it is often used against religious minorities in the Muslim country.

Bishop Rufin Anthony of Isalamabad-Rawalpindi told the missionary news service, AsiaNews, that "the law is abused and manipulated for petty reasons and it is time to repeal it to make Pakistan a modern country."

Avvenire quoted Faisalabad Bishop Joseph Coutts as saying that in asking for the abrogation of the law against blasphemy "we don't want to encourage disrespectful acts toward the prophet." But, he said, "we deplore its application when used to hurt an adversary or an enemy."

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Pakistan: Filthy Business

by Ali Dayan Hasan
Human Rights Watch

Published in: Dawn

November 15, 2010

WHAT on earth did Aasia Bibi do to merit the dubious distinction of becoming the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy? Basically, she, a Christian, and a peasant to boot, had the gall to feel insulted.

Why? Because Aasia's fellow workers, all daily wage farmhands from the village of Ittanwali in Sheikhupura district, claimed that the water she served was ‘unclean' because of her faith.

Aasia Bibi dared express her outrage at this act of brazen prejudice, maintained that her faith was as good as any and refused to convert to Islam. Up to that point, this was a minor altercation brought on perhaps by a combination of ignorance and blazing tempers due to excessive, underpaid toil in the blistering summer heat.

But little did Aasia Bibi know that life was never going to be the same again after the events of that day in June 2009. A few days later, her perfectly sane reaction resulted, as is often the case, in a frenzied mob led by a local mullah attempting to attack her for blasphemy and the police taking her into ‘protective custody'. And depressingly, as is the case equally often, once in their custody, the police found it expedient to charge Aasia under the heinous Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code otherwise known as the blasphemy law rather than hold accountable those who threatened her life.

Thereafter, Aasia rapidly made the journey from police lockup in Nankana to under-trial prisoner at Sheikhupura District Jail.Aasia Bibi's case is so unremarkable, so commonplace, so routine in its casually callous violation of basic rights that it did not even register in the public consciousness. And, of course, it is no secret that the belief that Christians, and non-Muslims in general, are ‘unclean', though not propagated by any known school of Islamic thought, has widespread currency, particularly in Punjab. In all likelihood, the police felt the mob was justified. There is a thin line between faith-based lack of hygiene and blasphemy goes this logic. And it is crossed if you refuse to view your faith as filth.

But Pakistan's lower-level judiciary managed through a shockingly bigoted judgment passed on Nov 7 to bring Aasia Bibi's case to centre stage. In sentencing Aasia Bibi to death under Section 295 C, Judge Naveed Iqbal of the Sheikhupura district and sessions court "totally ruled out" any chance that Aasia was falsely implicated and said there were "no mitigating circumstances". Apparently, the court thought that it is absolutely fine to argue that Christians are simply unclean and if they respond by accusing the allegers of bigotry, they are guilty of blasphemy.

The Sheikhupura district and sessions court judgment highlights to the world what anyone who has ever traversed the muddy waters of Pakistan's law-enforcement and judicial system knows all too well: the investigative capacity of the police is virtually non-existent and the police habitually caves in to Islamist-inspired mobs in the name of ‘preserving public order', particularly when it comes to vendettas against religious minorities. Too often, the lower-level judiciary lacks the training to adjudicate within the framework of the law and frequently brings its own political and social prejudices to bear in its approach to the law.

It is a sobering thought that, in contrast to the two-year training programme offered to civil servants, district judges receive barely a fortnight of orientation. These judges are meant to dispense justice without any training in judicial ethics and conduct, interpretation and application of the law, or even the basics of judgment writing. And there are complaints that they lack the staple of a proper judiciary: the capacity to dispense justice devoid of personal prejudice.

While Pakistan's independent judiciary engages in constitutional nit-picking with the legislature and the executive, it has singularly failed to meaningfully address what should be its highest priority - putting its own house in order to ensure that there is meaningful justice delivered where it is most urgently needed, at the local level.

And finally, there is the issue of Section 295 C itself. It is ironic that the jurisprudence in favour of the controversial provision has uniformly argued that Section 295-C achieves the declared objective of preventing vigilante justice. The argument suggests that the blasphemy law prevents private citizens from killing blasphemy suspects because it offers them legal routes to carry out the persecution they intend. This argument is fallacious, morally reprehensible and seeks through legalised discrimination to relieve the state of its duty as non-partisan guarantor of the citizens' security.

Not only is 295 C in violation of both international norms and the fundamental rights' provisions of the Pakistani constitution, its vague all-encompassing wording allows it to be used as an instrument of political and social coercion and discrimination against some of the most disempowered sections of society - religious minorities, heterodox Muslims and the poor.

The obscene consequences of the blasphemy laws have been evident for decades now through the continued criminalisation and persecution of those the state ought to actually be protecting. Human Rights Watch has long argued that Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code ought to be repealed in totality. Failure to repeal makes successive governments, and the state itself, complicit in heinous discrimination and egregious human rights abuse."

So long as the state continues to act as a sectarian, partisan actor and the judiciary continues to uphold discriminatory laws and provide legal justifications for the misplaced values they enshrine, there will be many more victims like Aasia Bibi silently suffering in the shadows.

The writer is Senior South Asia Analyst for the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Pakistan: Family condemns blasphemy sentence

Family leads outcry at blasphemy death penalty
Anger at Pakistan's 'discriminatory' laws grows as the Christian Asia Bibi appeals against sentence for insulting Mohamed

By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent
From: The Independent, Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Campaigners in Pakistan say the case of Asia Bibi – the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy – highlights the need for urgent reform of laws that are routinely used to persecute minorities and settle grudges.

The 45-year-old Christian, who has at least two children, was sentenced to death by a court in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, after prosecutors accused her of insulting the Prophet Mohamed and promoting her own faith. Her family have rejected the allegations and launched an appeal. "We have never ever insulted the Prophet or Islamic scripture, and we will contest the charges," said her husband Ashiq Masih.

While Mrs Bibi may be the first woman to be sentenced to death, Pakistan's blasphemy laws – particularly section 295C of the penal code, introduced by the late dictator Zia ul-Haq – are commonly used against both non-Muslims and Muslim minorities.

Earlier this year, police reinforcements had to be called to Faisalabad when two Christians charged with blasphemy were shot dead outside the court. In 1998, John Joseph, the then Catholic Bishop of Faisalabad, committed suicide to protest against the treatment of Christians.

The campaign to confront the country's blasphemy laws has existed for some years but activists say the movement is hampered by the danger of being accused of undermining Islam. Because of fear of religious conservatives, some of those who would like to see the laws scrapped feel compelled to call for reform rather than repeal.

Human Rights Watch is among the groups that have called for sections 295 and 298 to be scrapped. "Asia Bibi's case should serve as a wake-up call to Pakistan's independent judiciary which urgently needs to address bigotry and incompetence in its ranks and to the government that needs to find the political will to repeal," said the group's Pakistan spokesman, Ali Dayan Hasan.

"The laws are discriminatory and intended as such and are used for precisely that purpose. So, the issue is not of their misuse but of the laws being on the statute books at all. Vague all-encompassing wording allows the laws to be used as an instrument of political and social coercion, legal discrimination and persecution."

Veteran human rights campaigner Asma Jahangir, who was recently elected head of the country's powerful Supreme Court Bar Association, is among those who have defended people accused of blasphemy, most famously in the case of a 14-year-old boy, Salamat Masih, who was accused of writing blasphemous words on the wall of a mosque. After Ms Jahangir successfully defended the teenager on appeal, the judge who acquitted him was murdered.

"At first these laws were used against minorities but now a number of Muslims have also been victimised. Once someone is accused of blasphemy you have to be very strong to defend yourself," she said. "Every time something like this [case] happens, there is a loud noise about reform. There is a draft reformed law that is with the government but the government is sitting on it. It's such a tricky issue because of the noise made by the extreme right."

The precise details of Mrs Bibi's case are unclear. Reports say the woman, who lives with her family in the village of Ittanwali, west of Lahore, had been working in the fields in June last year when she was sent to fetch water. When she returned, some Muslim women refused to drink it, saying it was unclean because it had been carried by a Christian. The women then fought.

At that point the other women went to a local cleric, Qari Salim, and several days later he filed a legal complaint with the police. When the case was eventually concluded last week, in addition to being sentenced to death, Mrs Bibi was also ordered to pay a fine of 300,000 Pakistani rupees (£2,180).

Last night, Mrs Bibi's husband told The Independent: "My wife was picking phalsa in the fields when she had a fight with her other workers over some triviality. The other three got together and accused my wife of desecrating the Holy Koran It was not even a men's fight in the village, but a trivial tussle between women."

Campaigners say many of the blasphemy cases that come to court are the result of personal grudges or disputes that have ended with one side or the other resorting to the powerful legislation to settle the issue.

While no one has yet been executed for blasphemy, the laws carry severe punishments. Earlier this year Pakistan's Supreme Court released a woman who had been held in jail for 14 years for blasphemy.

The court said the woman, Zaibunnisa, 60, from Rawat, near Islamabad, had been held even though "no evidence" had been found against her.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Indonesia: Chan and Sukumaran speak

Bali Nine pair speak out
15 November 2010 07:02:23AM
Source: AAP/SBS Dateline (World News Australia)

Two Australians on death row for their role in the Bali Nine drug smuggling operation have revealed exclusively to Dateline on SBS ONE why they gambled with their lives and how they are trying to make amends.

Myuran Sukumaran, 29, and Andrew Chan, 26, have not spoken before about the bungled attempt to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin out of Bali five years ago or about their lives inside "Death Row Tower", the super-max section of Kerobokan Prison.

The men are making a final bid to get their death sentences overturned, with a final hearing expected to be held in Bali on Friday before their appeals are sent to Indonesia's Supreme Court for a verdict.

Sukumaran told Dateline reporter Mark Davis he gets a "a lot" of hate mail from Australians who tell him that he deserves to die.He also revealed he joined the Bali Nine because he didn't want to work in a mailroom for the next 50 years of his life.

"I thought, nup, can't do this, and then you see all these people in, like, nightclubs with nice BMWs and nice Mercedes and, you know, there's always chicks there and you know they're always buying drinks for everybody and you think, f***, you know, how do you do this on a mailroom salary?"

Chan told Dateline he is a pastor in the prison church, is studying religion and has fallen in love with a Balinese woman. He also apologises for his role in the Bali Nine operation.

"I'm thankful that every day I actually get to wake up.

"I'm studying and a lot of people might see that and say oh, you know, there's probably no use towards that but I believe that if you want to try to build yourself up to something, you know, you gotta start somewhere.

"You gotta start today, you know? Maybe tomorrow I won't exist. (It) makes me want to become a better person today and not tomorrow."

Watch the episode or read the transcript here.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Pakistan: Repeal Pakistan's blasphemy law

From: The Guardian online

If Pakistan is serious about freedom of speech its blasphemy law must go
Michael Nazir-Ali
The Guardian, Saturday 13 November 2010

Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five, is the first woman to have been convicted under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law. But numerous Christians like her and others have been victims of it, either because they have made a comment which has been construed as critical of the prophet of Islam or as a way of settling property and business disputes. Now she has become the first person to be sentenced to death under it.

Did she blaspheme Muhammad? It seems more likely that she angered her tormentors in a theological discussion about the relative merits of Christianity and Islam. Such debates take place all the time among adherents of different faiths. Whichever it may have been, the law has created intolerable injustice for often powerless people and quite unacceptable restrictions on freedom of speech to which the state of Pakistan is committed.

In undivided India, the British had laws which were meant to prevent incitement to religious hatred (yes, that is where this approach was first tried). The penalties, however, were generally moderate and proportional to the offences. Increasing Islamisation in Pakistan has made these laws more and more draconian. Thus there is now a mandatory life sentence for desecrating the Qur'an and a mandatory death sentence for blaspheming the prophet.

We need to know urgently from our Muslim friends whether these laws are really Islamic. The different formal schools of medieval sharia were unanimous that anyone who insults the prophet is to be put to death and differ only about the method of execution. It is this unanimity which has led the federal shariat court to rule that the death penalty is mandatory and left the judges with little discretion in particular cases.

Against this, the Qur'an only threatens those who insult God or the prophet with a curse and a humiliating punishment in this life and the next. It is claimed sometimes that the execution of poets, such as Ka'ab ibn al-Ashraf, for insulting the prophet is a precedent for executing blasphemers. On the other hand, it is said that they were put to death not for blaspheming but for sedition. The Hadith also tells us that while some were punished, others were freely pardoned by Muhammad himself. The question is, which of these attitudes is to prevail in Muslim nations and communities today?

It may be that a country like Pakistan needs laws to prevent religiously aggravated hatred discrimination. Such laws would be very different from the present ones and would protect religious minorities equally with Muslims.

How can Asia Bibi and others be saved from the gallows? The blasphemy law is a bad law enacted under pressure from extremists who threaten violence if the government does anything to lessen its impact or to ameliorate the lot of those who have fallen victim to it. A bad law will always come back to haunt us and that is why our ultimate aim must be its repeal.

Pakistan is a signatory to international agreements which prohibit cruel and degrading punishment. It is time for it to honour its commitments and to stand up to extremist purveyors of hate, if it is to have a respected place in the family of nations. The international community, the UN, the Commonwealth and the EU must do everything they can to make sure this vulnerable woman does not suffer the extreme penalty and that others, like her, are not subjected to months and even years of harassment, imprisonment and anxiety as they await a final verdict on their cases.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Indonesia: No deterrence, more arrests

Dealing Out Death to the Indonesian Drug Dealers
By Ulma Haryanto, Heru Andriyanto, Made Arya Kencana & Arientha Primanita
November 07, 2010
From: Jakarta Globe

Jakarta. Does the death penalty truly deter drug couriers and traffickers? Both criminologists and the National Narcotics Agency said no, even as Indonesian airport authorities on Sunday announced yet another arrest of a woman attempting to smuggle crystal methamphetamine into the country by stuffing packets of the drug into her vagina.

Indonesian jails, Jakarta Police Chief Insp. Gen. Sutarman said on Friday, are heaving from the growing population of drug users, couriers and traffickers, and the country continues to pay a very costly price as jail wardens and police fail to stop convicts from managing to run drug businesses from behind Indonesian jails, via cellphones.

"Traffickers should really be put to death. Even the threat of a death sentence is actually no deterrent," Sutarman had said.

Criminologist Muhammad Irvan Olii agreed that the death penalty is not something that strikes fear into the hearts of traffickers and producers, considering it hardly affects the international drug trade.

"If a dealer or trafficker is sentenced to death, he or she is simply replaced," Irvan told the Jakarta Globe.

Criminologist Erlangga Masdiana agreed with Irvan.

"Issuing the death penalty is related to the legal philosophy behind the sentence. When someone has caused tremendous damage to society, a lesser sentence than death is deemed not enough, but this has nothing to do with curbing the growth of international drug syndicates," Erlangga said.

"Because when you are really poor, becoming a drug mule is an option many people will consider."

Customs authorities at the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali announced the arrest of Thai national Jurnporn Ampar, 29, for attempting to smuggle 208 grams of crystal methamphetamine in her vagina.

The drugs were packaged tightly in condoms.

"She seemed so nervous and in such a hurry. A body search revealed the condoms," said Customs official Bagus Endro Wibowo, adding that they had great difficulty attempting to remove the condoms from her body.

"One of them broke inside her, which caused bleeding. She later told us she was paid US$500. Her mother has cancer and the money was for hospital treatment."

Saturday's bust comes two days after Jakarta Police announced the arrest of a veiled Malaysian woman who had also stuffed packets filled with crystal meth into her vagina.

The suspect, Noor Rohman, had managed to get past customs and immigration officers at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, but was arrested at a Central Jakarta hotel.

The National Narcotics Agency, or BNN, said the only way the death penalty for drug crimes in Indonesia could have a deterrent effect was if executions of those on death row were carried out speedily.

BNN spokesman Sumirat Dwiyanto said this was not the case.

Sumirat said just five drug dealers had been executed in 2008, of the 72 sentenced to death.

The last time the Attorney General's Office ordered an execution was in 2008, when 10 inmates were put in front of a firing squad, including three militants convicted for the 2002 bombings in Bali.

He added that a court doling out the death penalty was one matter, but seeing to its actual execution was quite another.

Acting Attorney General Darmono said over the weekend that only one out of 101 inmates on death row had now exhausted all available legal avenues.

However, the inmate's execution was impeded by the convict’s "maneuvering" — seeking a doctor's prescription because he was sick, Darmono said.

“We grant inmates the opportunity to use their legal rights to the fullest, because people cannot die twice.”

According to BNN records, over 28,300 cases of drug abuse were recorded in Indonesia last year, with 35,300 people arrested for those crimes.

And this year, of all people sentenced by the court for drug use, only 20 entered rehabilitation centers.

Sumirat said that most of the suspects arrested were above 30 years of age.

"However, 102 suspects were below the age of 15, while nearly 1,600 of them were between the ages of 16 and 19," he pointed out.

More than half of the death row inmates are convicted drug dealers, a majority of whom are foreigners.

Under Indonesian law, capital punishment applies to such crimes as drug trafficking, terrorism, premeditated murder, treason and, in extraordinary cases, corruption.

A list of drug cases reported just in the last week:
Nov. 7: Bali airport authorities arrest a woman carrying crystal methamphetamine-filled condoms inside her body.

Nov. 5: Jakarta Police seize more than Rp 150 billion ($16.8 million) worth of crystal meth in two separate North Jakarta raids.

Nov. 3: Police in West Java seize two tons of marijuana from a warehouse in Cianjur. Separately, police announced the arrest of two Malaysians for smuggling crystal meth.

Nov. 2: Customs officers at Selaparang-Mataram Airport in West Nusa Tenggara arrest a Malaysian man for possession of Rp 6 billion worth of crystal meth.

Nov. 2: Bogor Police seize 400 kilograms of marijuana from two drug couriers.

Other reported drug smuggling cases:
Sept. 21: Two Chinese nationals arrested at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport for attempting to smuggle in 2,110 grams of crystal meth.

April 8 : Two Malaysian nationals arrested with three kilograms of crystal meth wrapped around their waists.

Jan. 7: Three Nigerians arrested carrying capsules filled with ecstasy, crystal meth and heroin inside their bodies.

Dec. 28, 2009: Two Iranians arrested for attempting to smuggle in crystal meth in capsules they had swallowed.

Nov. 10, 2009: An Iranian arrested at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport after crystal meth discovered hidden inside a prosthetic leg.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Pakistan: Rights commission urges abolition

HRCP urges Pakistan to vote against death penalty
Statement issued on 4 November 2010

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the government of Pakistan to vote in favour of a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) demanding a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The resolution is to be considered at the 65th session of the UNGA later this month.

Lahore, November 4: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has called upon the government of Pakistan to vote in favour of a resolution in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) demanding a moratorium on the use of the death penalty. The resolution is to be considered at the 65th session of the UNGA later this month.

In a letter to President Asif Ali Zardari, the Commission welcomed the informal moratorium on executions in place in Pakistan since November 2008 and added, "We believe that the forthcoming resolution on moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the 65th session of the UNGA shares the commitment shown by the government of Pakistan in suspending executions. In sync with HRCP's long-standing demand, the resolution also urges to progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed." Copies of the letter were also sent to the prime minister and the federal ministers of law and foreign affairs.

Calling upon Islamabad to vote in favour of the resolution, HRCP urged the president: "If it is impossible to consider a positive vote on this resolution, we encourage you to abstain at the vote and not to sign any statement of disassociation from the resolution. Such a stance by Pakistan will reaffirm the country's commitment to a moratorium on executions and to eventual abolition of the death penalty."

Two previous UNGA resolutions on moratorium on the use of the death penalty—resolution 62/149 adopted in 2007 and resolution 63/168 in 2008—reaffirmed the commitment of the UN towards the abolition of capital punishment, calling upon states that still retained the death penalty to, inter alia, respect international safeguards guaranteeing the rights of those facing the death penalty, reduce the number of offences for which this punishment may be imposed and establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty. HRCP hoped that the adoption of a third UNGA resolution on a moratorium on executions by an increased majority of UN Member States will demonstrate that the trend towards abolition was steadily increasing.

Pakistan has one of the highest rates of conviction to capital punishment in the world. HRCP has consistently opposed the application of the death penalty in Pakistan, mainly on account of the critical deficiencies of the law itself, of the administration of justice, police investigation methods, chronic corruption and the cultural prejudices affecting women and religious minorities. The Commission has highlighted that the safeguards against miscarriage of justice are weak or non-existent, and possibility of innocents being executed remains frighteningly high. As a first step, HRCP has urged the government to restrict the number of offences carrying the death penalty to the most serious crimes only, and refrain from adopting new crimes entailing capital punishment.

Dr Mehdi Hasan

Friday, 22 October 2010

Australians must confront death penalty

Looking away from the death penalty abroad is collusion
By Brigid Delaney
From: Sydney Morning Herald, 22 October 2010

Globalisation has swept the world, but the mediaeval remedy remains.

Poor Colin Campbell Ross. The 29-year-old Victorian was hanged in 1922 for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl. It was later found that they got the wrong man.

On Monday, Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls formally returned Ross's cremated remains to his family.

In 1981, France's Justice Minister abolished the death penalty, saying it was untenable as it depended on the impossible premise of "totally responsible guilty parties" and "absolutely infallible judges".

French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy said recently, with a note of Gallic exasperation, "To think we still have to argue against the death penalty".

In the case of the Bali nine, Scott Rush, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran are literally arguing for their lives. They may have admitted various levels of culpability in their roles after the April 2005 heroin bust, and it is proper they should be brought to account, but the great injustice here is that the punishment does not fit the crime. Moreover, the punishment should be regarded as a crime.

It's interesting watching Australian politicians on this matter - their responses speak somehow to character, like a low tide revealing water marks; the Christian who thinks that only God has the power to take life, the humanist who recoils at such awesome power invested in the state, and the diplomat who believes state sovereignty is sacred.

The narrative that engulfs death row cases flows on regardless: the grainy footage of the arrests, the shock and denial of the accused, the deep distress to the families and friends. The introduction into their lives of the media. The organisation of legal teams. The diplomatic approaches, the hearings and appeals, the religious awakening in prison, the vigils of supporters, the masses, the pleas for clemency, the prayers and the petitions.

Towards the end there is, as there was with Australian Nguyen Tuong Van (executed almost five years ago in Singapore for drug trafficking), a sort of public turning. Compassion for the prisoner, sorrow for his family, an acknowledgment that perhaps people can change. Then a lump in the throat, or sudden tearfulness watching the evening news when you hear he has been hanged.

But the central, unmovable thing in all this activity is the legal system that supports the death.

It is before such a legal system that many objections wilt, where we answer our own disquiet about the death penalty with a fey "well, it's their law, so we have to abide by their punishment", as if the legal systems of others were beyond critique. As if they never get it wrong.

Sovereignty is the trump card and for many our inner diplomat speaks louder than our inner Christian or humanist. But what if you believe that the immovable thing, the thing at the centre of it all, is not the legal system but the sanctity of life?

While globalisation has swept the world and continues to radically transform cultures and economies, the barbaric, mediaeval ''remedy'' of the death penalty remains like a recessive gene in a body that has successfully evolved and adapted to modern life.

You wouldn't recognise parts of Shanghai or Beijing, so modern have they become, yet China executes unreported thousands (sending the bill for the single bullet to the families). In December 2009, in great secrecy, they executed Akmal Shaikh, a mentally ill Briton accused of drug smuggling.

You may go to Singapore to buy the most advanced electronic gear (and so cheap) - yet that is where they killed 25-year-old Nguyen with a noose, where he went dignified and prayerfully to his death.

You may go to Bali for an Eat, Pray, Love experience when down the road is Kerobokan prison and the young men are in sweaty little rooms with their lawyers and their hopes.

And the US, where 3000 men and women are waiting in dread (maybe after a while in a kind of toxic boredom) to be put to death by the state. Why do we tolerate the continued existence of this?

Anyone like me who studied humanities at a university in the '90s had it drilled into them not to assume your legal system is better or more enlightened than theirs.

But what is this triumph of cultural relativism in the face of the great opportunity that exists for everyone of personal transcendence? That is the unforgettable lesson Nguyen taught us, and repeated in the Kerobokan transformations of Sukumaran and Chan - the computer and art classes they are teaching the other prisoners, their faces more open and luminous with each court appearance.

How is it possible to accept the sovereignty of countries where the legal "remedy" is death?

There are some things so fundamentally abhorrent that to cough politely and look away is uncomfortably close to collusion, at one remove from some baying mob in Tehran gathered at the scaffolding in the square.

Brigid Delaney is a former lawyer, journalist and author of This Restless Life.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Punjab may oppose Pakistan abolition

Punjab to oppose death penalty abolition
Monday 4/10/2010
From: Gulf Times

The government in Pakistan’s Punjab province has decided to oppose the conversion of capital punishment into life imprisonment, contending that it would create lawlessness, lead to frequent occurrence of heinous crimes and proliferation of hired assassins.

Ending the death penalty, the provincial government claims, is also against Islamic injunctions, a Punjab home department official says. Executions were put on hold till December 2010 by President Asif Ali Zardari after he took over as the head of state in September 2008. The last condemned prisoner - a former soldier who had killed a colonel and his family - was hanged in November, 2008.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Indonesia: Australian police appeal for mercy

Aussie Cops Seek Mercy for Bali 9 Drug Smuggler
Made Arya Kencana & AFP
September 16, 2010
From: The Jakarta Globe

Denpasar. The former Australian Federal Police commissioner who passed on intelligence to Indonesian police that helped doom the so-called Bali Nine drug smugglers, asked a court here on Thursday to spare the life of one of the smugglers.

Testifying at the appeal of 24-year-old Scott Rush, Mick Keelty, the former AFP commissioner, told the court that Rush was a "small-time player" and did not deserve his sentence of death by firing squad.

"His [Rush's] role was minimal. He was a courier," Keelty said during the hearing at the Denpasar District Court.

Keelty told the court that as the AFP's top-ranking officer in 2005, he had given the green light on two occasions for information to be passed on to his Indonesian counterparts about the nine Australians who conspired to smuggle 8.2 kilograms of heroin from Bali into Australia.

The Australian, a daily newspaper, reported in August that the AFP asked the Indonesian police in April 2005 to "attempt to keep the group under surveillance, identify the source of the drugs and obtain as much evidence and intelligence as possible to help the AFP nail the organizers in Australia."

The newspaper also reported that four days later, the AFP sent Indonesian authorities another letter containing the "dates, times and flight details of the Bali Nine's return to Australia."

Keelty told the court that the AFP, which was tipped off about the plan by a lawyer working for Rush's father, included intelligence on Rush's "minimal role" and his young age at the time of the foiled drug run.

Rush, whose original life sentence was changed to death on appeal by prosecutors, was 19 years old when he was caught with heroin strapped to his body at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport.

"This young man had just gone to Indonesia for the first time. In fact, it was the very first time he ever got out of Australia," Keelty told the court.

Michael Phelan, the current AFP deputy commissioner, told the court that Rush did not have a criminal record in Australia and because it was his first drug offense he would face "less than 10 years" if convicted of the same crime at home.

The hearing was adjourned until Sept. 26.

Rush was not in court on Thursday but last month he publicly apologized to the court and begged for forgiveness. Two other Bali Nine members, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, have also launched appeals against their death sentences.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Pakistan: Asian rights group calls for abolition

PAKISTAN: Government urged to commute all death sentences and abolish the death penalty
August 26, 2010

Fifteenth session, Agenda Item 3

A written statement submitted by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a non-governmental organisation with general consultative status

The Asian Legal Resource Centre welcomes the discussion by the Human Rights Council during its 15th session concerning the report of the Secretary General on the question of the death penalty. In light of this discussion, the ALRC is hereby submitting information pertaining to the death penalty in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan has failed to abolish the death penalty in spite of the pledge it made in 2008 to commute death sentences to life imprisonment. According to estimates, there are around 7400 prisoners on death row1, the largest number in any country in the world. This number constitutes around one third of the death row prisoners in the world. It must be noted that the government has not carried out judicial executions since September 2008, which are typically carried out by hanging in Pakistan, but condemned prisoners remain seriously concerned for their future, as do their family members, while the death penalty remains in place. Many among them have already spent more than 10 years in prison. The ALRC recalls that prolonged detention on death row is at the very least cruel and inhuman treatment and therefore constitutes a violation of these persons' rights in of itself.

Prior to the present hiatus to executions, Pakistan was amongst the countries in the world which executed the highest number of persons each year. To date 128 countries have abolished the death penalty, and of those that have not, only around half carry out executions. Pakistan voted against a United Nation General Assembly resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty in December 2007.

The government of Pakistan has promised since June 21, 2008 to commute death sentences on several occasions, but little action has been taken to put this into effect. Reports have indicated that in some prisons, prisoners sentenced to death have been moved from death row cells to other barracks, but remain separated from other prisoners. Pakistan’s death penalty has been commuted before. Former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and founder of the current ruling party, the Pakistan People's Party, commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment but he was later executed by the military.

The country's parliamentary bodies - the national assembly and senate - in mid-April 2010 approved the eighteenth amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan, deleting the majority of the amendments made by past military rulers, but the parliament has not touched the amendment made to the constitution by General Zia Ulhaq comprising the death penalty. In the 1970s, the government led by the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto raised the minimum term of a life sentence from 14 to 25 years with the idea that capital punishment would be abolished in the years to come. However, this did not materialize and General Zia, the country's military ruler from 1977 to 1988, kept both the death penalty and the increased life sentence intact through an ordinance which was later incorporated in the Constitution. Mr. Bhutto was later hanged in 1979. Former President Musharraf did nothing to alter either the death sentence or the minimum term.

Pakistan’s legislators also did not attempt to commute the death sentence in the eighteenth amendment, allegedly because of pressure by Islamic fundamentalist parties. The federal cabinet decided on July 2, 2008 to commute the death sentence, but due to pressure from Muslim fundamentalists and a Suo Moto action from the then-Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Abdul Hameed Dogar, who had been appointed by former president General Musharraf during the state of emergency, the government avoided issuing a formal notification commuting death sentences.

When Pakistan was founded 63 years ago, only murder and treason carried the death penalty. Now the death penalty can be handed to persons found guilty of 27 'crimes' including blasphemy, stripping a woman in public, terrorist acts, sabotage of sensitive installations, sabotage of railways, attacks on law enforcement personal, spreading hate against the armed forces, sedition, and many more.

Although the Pakistan Juvenile Justice System Ordinance was extended to apply nationwide in 2004, implementation remains limited. This is the case notably as, also in 2004, the High Court in Lahore revoked this ordinance, which exempted those under the age of 18 years from execution. An appeal is still pending. Pakistan is one of just five countries in the world to have executed a minor/juvenile offender in recent years. In one such case, Mutabar Khan was hanged on June 13, 2006 for a crime committed when he was 16, and the authorities of another jail, Mach Central Jail, have acknowledged holding two juvenile offenders on death row. Often, after years of trial defendants will have trouble convincing the judge that they were actually underage when they broke the law.

The country's two parallel judiciary systems, one secular and other one based on Shariah laws, creates a situation in which the death penalty has been handed out in ways that do not satisfy the requirements of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Pakistan ratified on June 23, 2010. The Islamic Shariah Courts are quick to hand out death sentences following trials that do not meet the internationally accepted standards of fair trial. The judicial bodies in the country follow Islamic injunctions and are a significant hindrance to the abolishment of the death penalty.

Pardons concerning death sentences can only be given by the victims. Death sentences are usually settled after a blood money payment called diyat and courts will often urge family members to resolve matters out of court. Human rights NGOs have branded this the 'privatisation of justice' and it tends to give the wealthy impunity. Because of diyat payments it is suspected that death penalties are dealt out more freely, because judges assume a settlement will be found.

Many among the 7,400 on death row are there as a result of the blasphemy law, under which crimes carry an obligatory death sentence, but for which evidence is often tenuous or involves personal vengeance. Section 295C of Pakistan's Penal Code provides the death penalty for "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of The Holy Prophet (Peace be Upon Him)".

This law is vague and open to abuse, notably against non-Muslims in Pakistan. It represents a severe limitation on religious freedom, as it effectively targets religious minorities. The law is also used by Muslim fundamentalist groups against liberal Muslims. The law has also often been used by those with personal grudges, as well as against Muslims who have converted to Christianity. When Pakistan's former president, General Musharraf, considered amending the law to limit such potential abuses, pressure from Islamic hardliners caused him to abandon these amendments, so the law remains, with all its flaws. An accusation of blasphemy commonly subjects the accused, as well as police, lawyers, and judges involved in the case, to harassment, threats and attacks. An accusation is sometimes the prelude to vigilantism and rioting.

Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in April 2010, which was signed by the President in June. While these steps are welcome, the ALRC believes that it is imperative for the government to also take immediate steps to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Recommendations: As stated above, Pakistan currently has around one third of the world’s death row prisoners, so any discussion of the issue of the death penalty must address this situation. The Asian Legal Resource Centre urges the Council to take all necessary steps to ensure that the government of Pakistan:

i. Provides immediate guarantees that none of the estimated 7400 death row prisoners will be executed.
ii. Commutes all death sentences to life imprisonment.
iii. Without delay abolishes the death penalty.
iv. Ratifies the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, bringing domestic legislation into line with its international obligations and ensuring the full implementation of this legislation.
v. Repeal the Blasphemy law and free all persons being detained pursuant to this law.


1 According to ALRC sources as well as reports by Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan# # #

About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.

Posted on 2010-08-26