URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT
ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM
AHRC UA Index: 001023 23 October 2000
UA 39/00: Dr. Shaikh may face Death Sentence for Blasphemy
PAKISTAN – Risk of Death Penalty, Denial of Freedom of Religion/Belief
We have received reliable information from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) regarding Dr. Younus Shaikh, who has been arrested for ‘Blasphemy’ in Pakistan. Blasphemy is an ill-defined offense which carries the mandatory death sentence in Pakistan. As such, Dr. Shaikh’s life is in grave danger. Below is all of the information about Dr. Shaikh’s case from IHEU, followed by suggested actions.
CAN YOU HELP SAVE DR. SHAIKH?
Dr. Younus Shaikh is founder-President of ‘Enlightenment’, a Pakistan based organization which is a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (www.iheu.org). Dr. Shaikh is a doctor and a teacher at a medical college in Islamabad. He lived and worked in the UK before returning to Pakistan. You may have received his numerous e mails about Humanism, about his collaboration with liberal minded Pakistanis to promote Human Rights, or about his other passion – the South Asian Peace Movement.
On 4 October 2000, Dr. Shaikh was arrested by the Islamabad police and booked under the dreaded Section 295-C (Blasphemy) of the Pakistan Penal Code. The police First Information Report was not readily available, but in it he is alleged to have defiled Mohammad, the Prophet of Islam, by pointing out that the Prophet did not become a Muslim till the age of 40 (ie. until he received the first message of God), and that the Prophet’s parents were non-Muslims because they died before Islam was proposed by the Prophet. It is for stating these facts that Dr. Shaikh will be killed by the State, if he is found guilty: we should not forget that he did not abuse, he did not threaten, he did not scorn or sneer.
45 year-old Dr. Shaikh lives alone, has no family, and has been sacked from his job following his arrest. To build popular pressure, an Islamabad-based Urdu language newspaper, Khabrain, is carrying a campaign, demanding the death penalty for him. In Pakistan, Blasphemy is a non-bailable offence and attracts the mandatory death-penalty. Dr. Shaikh is currently held in Adyala Jail, Rawalpindi, in judicial remand.
On 19 October 2000, Dr. Shaikh was presented before the court, but he had no lawyer. Frequently lawyers are intimidated by the mob, so they do not take up blasphemy cases. Even judges are afraid of trying them. A group of 20 clerics – menacing and aggressive – came to the court, to pursue their case against Dr. Shaikh. They represent the Majlis-I-Khatam-I-Nabuwat (Organization on the Finality of the Prophet). Dr. Shaikh’s reading glasses were broken when he came to court, he was unable to read well, and was not allowed to speak to anyone. Fortunately he has not been tortured by the police during 2 weeks of custody. If we do not act in time, he will be doomed.
BLASPHEMY IN PAKISTAN
Blasphemy in Pakistan is a cognizable offence, punishable mandatorily by death, but Section 295-C does not even precisely define the crime it is meant to punish. This law has a history of abuse : it is a convenient means to settle personal scores. In this case, it is a disgruntled student Mr. Muhammad Asghar Khan who complained to the fundamentalists. Even those not present at the time of the alleged ‘offence’ can file a complaint – this is the case as regards Dr. Shaikh. A cleric, Maulana Abdur Rafoof, registered the case in Islamabad’s Margalla police station. Despite the severity of punishment, Section 295-C empowers a police officer to arrest, without obtaining a warrant from a judicial magistrate. Dr. Shaikh is in custody since 4 October 2000.
The Blasphemy law in Pakistan is a shameful relic of the British Raj’s 1860 Criminal Law. It was modified in 1926 before Pakistan was born, and again as recently as in 1986 and in 1991 when criminal law was Islamicised by the then dictatorship. Now, under the regime of Islamic punishments, the evidence required is ‘at least two Muslim adult male witnesses who are supposed to be truthful persons who abstain from major sins’. It is required at the trial that the Presiding officer must be a Muslim. Islamic law of evidence declares that the evidence recorded by minorities and women has a status inferior to that of Muslim men.
In the case of Blasphemy, very often the accused is murdered either in police custody or even in the court room itself by blood thirsty zealots. So few cases are even brought to fruition. General Pervez Musharraf’s recent attempts to improve the law has been met with vehement opposition from the clerics, and he immediately climbed down, in deference to the Islamic fundamentalists. The law remains as barbaric as it was. And so is the mob.
3% of Pakistan’s 140 million citizens are non-Muslims; and there are at least 20 million Shiites, a minority Islamic sect in Pakistan. The situation for these minorities is desperate. The main victims of Pakistan’s discriminatory and repressive legislation so far have been the Ahmadias, the Christians and the Hindus – and the most victimized are the Christians and Ahmadias. Their evidence is not accepted, their rights to freedom of religion or belief not protected, they are not allowed high-positions in the Army or in the bureaucracy, and they are forced to vote under the separate electorate system, where non-Muslims vote for non-Muslims.
But the main concern of Pakistan’s Human Rights activists are the Blasphemy laws. Blasphemy of Islam is punished differently and much more severley than Blasphemy of other religions. There is no Freedom of Religion or Belief in Pakistan. Bishop John Joseph, Roman Catholic Bishop of Faizalabad even killed himself in protest in front of the sessions court of Sahiwal, on May 5, 1998. But even this ultimate sacrifice did not move the administration or the legislature.
Pressure must mount from all quarters to enable the law to change, and to protect the victims. Pakistan’s theocracy is depriving many honest citizens of their liberty and their life.
Please write two letters: the first you can send as an email to the Chief Executive of Pakistan, and the second as a fax to the UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings, who is herself a Pakistani. The addresses and contents of these letters should be as follows. Please take the extra few minutes to send the copies of your letters as requested.
1. General Pervez Musharraf
Chief Executive of Pakistan Government
E Mail: CE@pak.gov.pk
Salutation: Dear General Musharraf
– Call for the immediate release of Dr. Younus Shaikh (arrested October 4, Margalia Police Station, and currently being held in Adyala Jail, Rawalpindi). State that the blasphemy laws are in your view discriminatory and unjust. Even were these laws justified, the statements made by Dr. Younus Shaikh and the manner in which they were made would make a mockery of the intent of such laws. The use of the death sentence in this case would horrify the entire international community.
– Request that he personally ensure the safety of Dr. Younus Shaikh now, during his incarceration (should it be prolonged further), and to consider now to commute the sentence immediately should the death penalty be used in this case
– Request that the Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Criminal Code be repealed as soon as possible, and that he should take steps to prevent their malicious and frivolous abuse meanwhile.
2. Ms. Asma Jahangir
Special Rapporteur of the UNCHR on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Telephone Number (41-22) 917-9000
Fax Number (41-22) 917-9006
Salutation: Dear Ms. Jahangir
– Draw her attention to the case of Dr. Younus Shaikh (arrested October
4, Margalia Police Station, and currently being held in Adyala Jail, Rawalpindi), who is to be tried under the Pakistani blasphemy laws (Sections 295-B and 295-C of the Criminal Code), which carry the mandatory death sentence.
– Request that she take up and intervene on the matter urgently, given the likelihood of unfair trial, expected unreasonable use of death sentence by a state and the high risk of death in custody.
SEND COPIES OF YOUR LETTERS TO
1. Dr. Abdul Fatteh Amor
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Telephone Number (41-22) 917-9000
Fax Number (41-22) 917-9016
2. IHEU: email@example.com
[IHEU have requested that you please send letters of Support to Dr. Shaikh also to this e mail address;
SEND DONATIONS FOR DR.SHAIKH’S LEGAL DEFENCE to
IHEU, 47 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8SP, UK
Cheques payable to IHEU; Credit Card donations preferable, to avoid international bank charges: Fax card details (address, card number, Visa/mastercard, date of issue, date of expiry; name of card holder) to +44 207 404 8641 or +44 207 4301271.]
3. AHRC Urgent Appeals: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your urgent action