Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan

Is there a world in which a nine year-old girl should be facing a death sentence…all for refusing to accept her fate in a forced marriage to a much older man?

This is not a hypothetical situation. This is reality in Pakistan.

The young Christian girl was forced to marry a much older Muslim man. She was also forced to convert to Islam.

But she wouldn’t accept her fate. She ran away, back to her family.

It was not long before the police arrived at her family’s home. They took her away and threw her into jail. She was accused of apostasy, and faced a potential death sentence.

A Pakistani Christian lawyer—let’s call her Adiba—heard this girl’s story and jumped to her defence. She knew the dangers. Yet, she knew she had to be fearless, just as the young girl had.

Adiba found herself accused of blasphemy during the defence of the girl. She was forced to flee Pakistan with her two young children and husband.

She did not stay gone for long. She soon returned, wanting to defend her fellow Christians—no matter the cost.

ADF International, with whom Adiba is an allied lawyer (along with 3,000 others), has asked important international bodies to address the issues in this case, including the blasphemy laws that forced Adiba to flee Pakistan while she was defending the young Christian girl.

In theory, religious freedom is protected under Pakistan’s constitution. In practice, this is not the case.

Pakistan has blasphemy laws on its books, which are interpreted widely and have been used to prosecute people speaking out against Islam or its prophets. While Pakistan theoretically allows missionary activity and evangelism, blasphemy laws complicate the situation. These laws make it very easy for someone to accuse a member of a religious minority of preaching against Islam.

Sometimes this means the laws will be deliberately exploited to settle fights between Muslims and their Christian neighbours.

In 2016, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said that 40 individuals were sentenced to death or life in prison for violating blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

Those who are accused are not just subject to the police, but also to their fellow neighbours in the form of harassment or physical attacks. This forces some to flee Pakistan, just like Adiba did.

Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in1948, states that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Clearly, Pakistan’s blasphemy laws do not measure up to the UDHR’s standard.

But that’s not all. The young Christian girl who was forced to convert to Islam and marry a much older man had not just her fundamental human right to freedom of religion violated; her right to enter into marriage freely, as expressed in Article 16.2 of the UDHR, was also completely forgotten.

These laws undermine the inherent dignity and fundamental freedoms of every religious minority that Pakistan has to offer. They must not stand.

Will you join us?  

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ADF International reaffirms the fundamental understanding that human rights are based on the inherent dignity of each person.

Join us in the promotion and protection of your fundamental freedoms today.

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ADF International builds alliances and engages in legal advocacy to protect and promote religious freedom throughout Europe, Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. We operate at institutions of strategic international importance.

We also work alongside Member States at these organizations to protect the fundamental values they were founded to uphold. ADF International’s influence at these key institutions means we are instrumental in shaping policy around the world.

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