Eight Christian prisoners of conscience on death row in Pakistan

At least eight Christians remain on death row in Pakistan after being convicted under Islamic law of “blasphemy”.

No Christians have been executed for “blasphemy”, but many of them have been languishing in prison for years, according to statistics provided by CLAAS (Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement), which is supported by Barnabas Fund.

Christian mother-of-five Aasia Bibi was released after spending eight years on death row when the Supreme Court acquitted her on 31 October 2018, but it remains uncertain if her release was a “landmark ruling” that will improve the plight of Pakistan’s Christian minority – around 2% of the population, or about 4 million.

The court freed Aasia Bibi because of flimsy and contradictory evidence, while simultaneously confirming that those who break the “blasphemy” law should be punished.

On 1 May 2019, police declared Christian Farhan Aziz innocent of “blasphemy” and released him after nine months in custody. At the time of Farhan’s arrest, an angry mob armed with steel rods and petrol cans congregated in a Christian area of Gujranwala, but police intervened to prevent an attack on Christians’ homes. 

Pakistan is a country where the mere accusation of “blasphemy” against Muhammad is enough to incite a vigilante killing by a mob of angry Muslims. If a Christian is not lynched, then he or she can find themselves arrested and charged with “defiling the name” of Muhammad, a crime under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code that carries a mandatory death penalty.

Christians are often falsely accused of “blasphemy” by Muslims and the superiority given to a Muslim’s testimony compared to a non-Muslim makes it difficult for Christians to receive justice.

Barnabas Fund, barnabasfund.org