29 May, 2020
In a press release on Thursday, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) had condemned the arrest of a 55-year-old woman named Ramzan Bibi in Cheleki in Pakistan on the charges of blasphemy. Reportedly, the woman is an Ahmadiyya by Faith, who despite being Muslims are not considered as one in Pakistan.
As per the press release, Ramzan Bibi was booked under Section 295 (C) of the Pakistan Penal Code, following a written complaint submitted to the police. It was alleged that she committed blasphemy during a personal dispute in which the charitable donation made to a local mosque was returned back to her.
The blasphemy law states, ”Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.”
Arunima Bhargava, the Commissioner of USCIRF, has called upon the Islamic Republic to facilitate the release of Ramzan Bibi and dropping all charges of blasphemy against the said woman. Besides, she had called the move as a ‘step in the wrong direction’. Reportedly, around 80 people are still incarcerated under the contentious blasphemy law in Pakistan. Half of such individuals are facing life sentences or on death row.
According to USCIRF Chairman, Tony Perkins, the abuse of the contentious blasphemy law is a ‘significant barrier’ to religious freedom in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. He added, “Ms. Bibi should be released from jail alongside other prisoners of conscience, especially given the heightened dangers of imprisonment during the current COVID-19 crisis.”
In its Annual Report for 2020, the USCIRF suggested the inclusion of Pakistan amongst the Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) to the US State Department. The recommendation was made in light of the abuse of blasphemy and Anti-Ahmadiyya laws to persecute religious minorities.