Committee Reports

Letter to the Prime Minister of Pakistan Regarding Blasphemy Laws


City Bar President Debra L. Raskin, in conjunction with the International Human Rights Committee, sent a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan expressing grave concern with respect to threats, violence and killings in Pakistan based on blasphemy allegations and the increase in blasphemy-related arrests, convictions and harsh sentences. Pakistan’s penal laws criminalize a host of activities and behaviors deemed to be blasphemous, including the utterance of words with the intention of wounding religious feeling and the defiling of the name of a “holy personage” even by “imputation, innuendo or insinuation.” Penalties for blasphemy include imprisonment and, in some instances, capital punishment. Moreover, Pakistan’s aggressive enforcement of its blasphemy laws has created a hostile environment in which lawyers, judges and others are targeted, threatened and killed for defending blasphemy cases or for calling for the decriminalization of blasphemy. The City Bar’s recommendations include (1) amending Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to incorporate adequate safeguards for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and due process, in conformity with Pakistan’s Constitution and international law; (2) eliminating criminal penalties for blasphemy; (3) reviewing all pending blasphemy proceedings and convictions to ensure compliance with domestic and international due process standards; (4) implementing security measures to ensure the safety of defendants, defense attorneys, judges, minority communities and others “at risk” under the current system; and (5) implementing effective accountability measures to prevent and address threats and attacks directed at individuals accused of blasphemy through an effective reporting mechanism and by investigating and prosecuting such crimes.