03/29/2023, 09.56
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Islamabad: In prison for 19 months for blasphemy, freedom again denied

by Shafique Khokhar

Shagufta Kiran, a Christian woman and mother of four, was the victim of false accusations for some comments posted on a social network chat. The judge refused her request for release on bail. Voice for Justice: 'Cases on the rise, courts are succumbing to extremist threats'.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Human rights activists have expressed their grave concern over the rejection of Shagufta Kiran's bail application, a Christian woman and mother of four who has been behind bars for over 19 months for a trumped-up blasphemy case. In a ruling on 27 March, Judge Muhammad Azam again refused to grant her bail.

Rana Abdul Hameed, Shagufta Kiran's lawyer, through the Voice for Justice association, argued that Shagufta Kiran is completely innocent and was unjustly implicated in the case because of the complainant's bad faith.

No incriminating material linking the accused to the commission of the alleged crime is available, and the circumstances of the case raise doubts and make it a case for further investigation.

Moreover, there is also a procedural flaw in the case: under the Pakistan Penal Code, the case could not be registered against the accused without special permission from the government authorities.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested Shagufta Kiran on 29 July 2021, for expressing her opinion during a discussion on religion in a WhatsApp group called 'Pure Discussion'.

Her remarks about the Islamic religion were considered disrespectful to Islam under the Electronic Crimes Prevention Act 2016 and the anti-blasphemy articles of the Pakistan Penal Code, which stipulate the death penalty for this offence.

Shagufta Kiran's four children were fasting and praying on the day of the court hearing to see their mother and celebrate Easter with her, and were disappointed by the denial of bail. "God is asking us to go through a great trial, I hope one day my mother will be released because she is innocent," said daughter Nihaal.

The president of Voice for Justice, Joseph Jansen, said it was deeply disturbing to see how a Christian woman was easily targeted because of her beliefs and to restrict freedom of expression, thought, conscience or religion. Abuses of the blasphemy laws - brought to the world's attention a few years ago by the Asia Bibi affair - continue to grow exponentially in Pakistan and are always motivated by personal vendettas, property disputes or religious prejudice.

The authorities fail to carry out investigations and fair trials because of the involvement of extremist groups. He reports that complainants and witnesses involved in filing false accusations against defendants often enjoy impunity and are not effectively prosecuted for perjury charges.

Human rights activist Ashkinaz Khokhar emphasised that the government should reform the blasphemy laws by excluding disproportionate death penalties, making blasphemy-related offences bailable, and ensuring that arrests or investigations do not take place in the absence of court warrants, which was lacking in the arrest or investigation of Shagufta Kiran's case.

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