The Lahore court’s decision to uphold Asia Bibi’s death penalty is far from just

Guardian: In November 2010, Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death in Pakistan. Her crime was allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad during an argument with some Muslim neighbours. The case caused an international outcry; politicians and international human rights organisations took it up; lawyers appealed. Today, the Lahore high courtupheld the death sentence.

Bibi’s case shone a spotlight on Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. The existence of blasphemy laws is not itself unusual. All over the world, different countries restrict what citizens can say about religion; Britain had a blasphemy law until 2008. What is exceptional in Pakistan is the extremity of the penalties, and the light burden of proof. Blasphemy carries a maximum penalty of death, yet the law sets out no standards for evidence, no requirement to prove intent, no punishment for false allegations and, indeed, no guidance on what actually constitutes blasphemy.

The accuser can refuse to repeat the offending statement in court, and judges can choose not to hear evidence in case it perpetuates the blasphemy and offends religious sensibilities. This means that in some cases, the accused can go through a whole trial without knowing what they are supposed to have done or said.

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