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US watchdog demands release of Pakistani Ahmadi woman jailed for blasphemy, calls for end to such laws

The US religious watchdog appealed to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government that 55-year-old Ramazan Bibi, a Pakistani woman from the country’s minority Ahmadi community, be freed immediately.

The statement by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that 55-year-old Ramazan Bibi was jailed last April under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law that carries the death penalty.

USCIRF Commissioner James W Carr said, “The Pakistani govt must immediately release Ramzan Bibi, and all others detained for blasphemy. Authorities allowing these laws to be used for personal gain or vendetta are only enabling systematic discrimination based on religious belief.”

Calling for repealing of the blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws, he added, “This is clear in Bibi’s case, as she is facing imprisonment simply because of her Ahmadi faith. The Pakistani government needs to repeal blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws and until this is accomplished, enact comprehensive reform.”

Under the blasphemy law of Pakistan, anyone accused of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death if found guilty.

James W Carr on Thursday announced his adoption of Ramzan Bibi through the Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.

On April 30, 2020, Ramzan Bibi, was detained and accused of making blasphemous remarks during a personal dispute over the return of her charitable donation to a local mosque in Cheleki village in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Bibi was charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, an offence that carries the death penalty. She is currently imprisoned at Central Jail Lahore.

“A village committee formed in Cheleki to investigate the case concluded that there was no evidence to prove the accusations of blasphemy against Bibi. However, hardline Muslim clerics compelled a non-Ahmadi resident of the village, who was not present during the dispute, to falsely testify against Bibi resulting in her incarceration,” USCIRF said in a statement.

The statement added, “Bibi’s bail application was rejected by the judge on November 18. An appeal has been filed for the mother of six, who has been waiting in jail throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”

In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the US Department of State continue to designate Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern, a recommendation USCIRF has made since 2002 due to Pakistan’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.

In December 2020, USCIRF published a report on Violating Rights: Enforcing the World’s Blasphemy Laws, which examines the enforcement of blasphemy laws worldwide.

This report found that the country with the most cases of state-enforced blasphemy laws was Pakistan, with 184 cases identified between 2014-2018. In June, USCIRF released a Policy Update on Pakistan that outlines the path for reforming and eventually repealing its blasphemy law.

India Today

India Today is a weekly Indian English-language news magazine published by Living Media India Limited. It is the most widely circulated magazine in India, with a readership of close to 8 million. In 2014, India Today launched a new online opinion-orientated site called the DailyO.

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