02/28/2023, 17.33
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Supreme Court to hear case of Christian jailed for 21 years for blasphemy

by Shafique Khokhar

Anwar Kenneth was sentenced to death in Lahore in 2002 for defending Christianity against Islam in the weeks following the 9/11 attacks. After five court-appointed lawyers refused to defend him, one agreed to take up his case at the next hearing. For human rights advocates, defending one’s faith cannot be considered blasphemy.

AsiaNews (Lahore) – Anwar Kenneth, a Christian man from Lahore, has been on death row for 21 years following his conviction of blasphemy for defending Christianity in an exchange with a local Islamic leader in the aftermath of the attacks on 11 September 2001.

Anwar Kenneth’s odyssey is now before the Pakistani Supreme Court, which is expected to start deliberations on the matter tomorrow.

His legal troubles began when a complaint was filed against him on 25 September 2001 under the infamous Article 295c of the Pakistan Penal Code, the so-called blasphemy law.

The charge is based on a letter, the Christian man, a former Ministry of Fisheries employee, sent to Haji Mehmood Zafar, secretary of a Lahore mosque, who had written to him that, while Jesus is a prophet according to Islamic tradition, he neither died on a cross nor was resurrected.

In his reply, Anwar Kenneth argued that Muhammad was not the prophet and that the Qur'an was not the word of God. And, provocatively, he challenged his interlocutor to file a complaint for blasphemy, claiming that God would protect him.

Eventually, Anwar Kenneth went on trial on 18 July 2002, ending with a conviction, a fine of five million rupees, a death sentence, and immediate imprisonment. On 30 June 2014, the Lahore High Court upheld the court's verdict.

Anwar Kenneth has always refused to appoint his own lawyer claiming that God is his defence. Moreover, in 21 years, five court-appointed lawyers have refused to represent him in court.

On 24 January 2023, the Supreme Court asked the Bar Council to provide counsel to represent the defendant in the interests of criminal justice. A lawyer agreed, so the hearing is set for 1 March.

Joseph Jansen, president of Voice for Justice, spoke to AsiaNews about the case. “Religious freedom is a fundamental human right protected by national and international laws.”

Anwar Kenneth “is firm in his faith in Christianity, and his arguments and opinions should not be interpreted as an act of blasphemy.”

For Lawyer Abdul Hameed Rana, Anwar Kenneth is a devout believer and an innocent person.  Like him, “There are billions of people in the world, who have their own religion and do not believe in Islam”.

None of them “are not liable to be prosecuted in any court of law for their beliefs.” Hence, “he must be acquitted as he has already spent 21 years of his life behind the bar for the offence he has never committed.”

For his part, activist Aneel Edger notes that the Supreme Court itself ruled in 2022 that depriving minorities of their religious beliefs and preventing them from professing and practising their religion is contrary to the Constitution of Pakistan.

Furthermore, written communication between two religious leaders who practise their respective faiths, Christian and Islamic, should not be interpreted as an act of blasphemy.

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