Lack of Due Process and Evidentiary Standards in Blasphemy Laws and their Inherent Incompatibility with International Human Rights Obligations

Posted on Posted in Law Review

By Daanika Kamal

Although blasphemy laws are not specific to Pakistan, it is argued that the State’s application of the laws is more likely to violate fundamental rights.[1] The procedures used to determine guilt under blasphemy laws are very problematic in this jurisdiction, and these laws are used for the prosecution of more individuals than in any other nation.[2] This article begins the discussion by explaining how blasphemy laws in Pakistan find their roots in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, introduced by the British in Colonial India as a means of safeguarding the interests of individuals to maintain stability in a multi-religious society. However, during General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime the amendments to the PPC not only expanded the scope of the blasphemy laws but imposed harsher penalties with no practical basis to evaluate evidentiary standards and an absence of mechanisms to safeguard the due process of law. It explains how these laws have thus been rendered incompatible with Pakistan’s subsequent (binding) international human rights obligations regarding freedom of speech and religion; freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; right to fair trial and due process of law; and freedom from torture. The article mentions how there have been failed attempts to repeal the blasphemy laws and therefore proposes to make amendments within the current legal system under which the laws operate, allowing them to exist while limiting the human rights violations that they currently entail.

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[1] Human Rights Watch, “Persecuted Minorities and Writers in Pakistan” (Human Rights Watch, 19 September 1993)

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[2] Doug Bandow, ‘Blasphemous Oppression In The Name of Islam: Hold Pakistan Accountable For Persecuting Religious Minorities’ (Forbes, 14 July 2014)

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