In his Christmas message, the Prime Minister reminded us that millions of people would be unable to freely celebrate Christmas. These bleak stories from Pakistan – a Commonwealth country – is a graphic illustration of how bad it can get for vulnerable people whose only crime is to manifest their beliefs.
Today’s edition of Dawn https://www.dawn.com/news/1523521 details the case of an academic from Pakistan, Junaid Hafeez, who has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges by a Court in Multan He has already spent 6 years in solitary confinement, which in human rights law must amount to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to the provisions of Article 7 of the ICCPR (to which Pakistan is a State Party).
In its Judgement the Court stated that ”this court has got no circumstance for taking [a] lenient view and it is also not permitted in Islam.”
Mr.Hafeez has been in solitary confinement in Multan’s Central Jail for at least six years. His parents say that “delaying tactics” the difficulties of finding “adequate legal counsel” and the difficulties of getting a fair trial at a low level of the judiciary have led to extraordinary suffering by their son.
His previous lawyer, Rashid Rehman, was shot dead in May 2014 in his office. At least seven judges were transferred through the course of Hafeez’s case.
Elsewhere in Multan’s prison, in the cell previously occupied by Asia Bibi, another illiterate Christian woman, Shagufta Kauser, once again spent Christmas separated from her disabled husband, Shafqat Emmanuel – paralysed from the chest down – who is also incarcerated on blasphemy charges – and separated from their four children, aged between 9 and 15.
Before their arrest the Kausers lived in the city of Gojra in the Punjab province in East Pakistan, where Mrs Kauser worked as a cleaner.
Having been held in separate prisons for six years both Shagufta Kauser and her husband are reported to be experiencing severe depression. A doctor’s report details fears for the health of Shafqat whose back is almost destroyed from bed sores as he is confined to a prison bed from which he is unable to move.
Although they cannot read or write, they were sentenced to death in 2014 for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages in English – a language that neither or them speak and nor do they have any knowledge of alphanumeric symbols.
At the time Mr Emmanuel said that he was tortured, forcing him to confess to something he did not do (and in the hope that his wife might then be freed). Prosecutors have been unable to produce any evidence linking the couple to the phone from which the alleged texts were sent.
On 8 April 2014 Farrukh Saif Foundation filed an appeal against their death sentences but no date has been fixed for a hearing.
Last May, in response to a parliamentary question, Ministers told me that the Government is monitoring the case. I have asked Foreign office Ministers to what action that monitoring has led and for your evaluation of Shagufta’s health and that of her husband.
In this week’s Queens Speech the Government said that they intend to look at the link between DFID and the policies of the Foreign Office.
They should explain why none of the £2.6 billion in aid given by the UK to Pakistan over the past ten years (£383,000 every day) has been conditional on a reform of the Blasphemy Laws – which have been used again and again to persecute Ahmadis and Christians – or to help persecuted minorities (instead of being “religion blind”).
When two children are forced to watch a lynch mob of 1,200 burn alive their parents; when no one is brought to justice for the murder of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities….
….when 1,000 Hindu and Christian girls are forcibly married and converted; and when minorities are ghettoised into squalid colonies, which I have visited, and forced to clean latrines and sweep streets…..
….is it not time that the Government re-examined its policy of refusing to specifically direct any of the aid we give to Pakistan for the alleviation of the suffering and destitution of these desperate minorities and to use it as leverage to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to believe, not to believe, or to change belief and(to which Pakistan is theoretically a signatory).
Junaid Hafeez has the right not to believe just as Shagufta Kauser has the right to be a Christian. Neither of them should be languishing for years on end in Pakistan’s prisons with death sentences hanging over them.
This is the case of a 14 years old Christian girl Huma, who was kidnapped, forcibly converted and married to her abductor, in Karachi. Later she was forced to make a video to say that she had voluntarily converted to Islam and was married now so that her parents should not try to go to authorities.
As the mother asks the question in the interview, how can law allow her to convert and marry, while it is illegal to marry in Sindh until you are 18
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