PAKISTAN: Open Letter – Urgent Request to halt the execution of Behram Khan

Ref: ASA 33/006/2012

28 May 2012

President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan Secretariat

Islamabad, Pakistan

Dear President,

OPEN LETTER:  TO URGENTLY REQUEST A HALT TO THE EXECUTION OF BEHRAM KHAN 

The Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) and Amnesty International (AI) calls on you to take steps to halt the execution of Behram Khan, to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolition and to commute all death sentences.

Behram Khan is scheduled to be executed on 30 June 2012. This would be the first execution in Pakistan in almost four years and the first under your government. It would end your administration’s welcome policy, announced in 2009, of moving Pakistan closer to the global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty. The execution of Behram Khan would reverse the hard fought progress made in Pakistan and possibly open the door to more executions. Only you as President can halt this execution.

Behram Khan was sentenced to death by an Anti-Terrorism Court on 23 June 2003 for the murder of lawyer Mohammad Ashraf. On 15 April 2003 he had come to the Sindh High Court to kill Qurban Ali Chauhan, a lawyer for a man accused of killing Behram Khan’s maternal uncle. Mistaking him to be Qurban Ali Chauhan, Mr Khan killed Mohammad Ashraf. A sub-inspector of police, Pir Bux, who accompanied Mr Khan to the court, was given a life sentence.

As you will know, appeals against his death sentence were turned down by the Sindh High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and a final mercy petition turned down by you, as President. On 10 May, the Anti-Terrorism Court issued a final death warrant for Behram Khan’s execution on 23 May and you issued a stay postponing his execution until 30 June.

The Anti-Terrorism Courts established in 1999 “for the purpose of providing for the speedy trial of the cases” undermine the rights to a fair trial.  The Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 has been changed various times since, but ADPAN has noted some remaining concerns in its report describing unfair trials in death penalty cases across Asia, When Justice Fails, Thousands Executed in Asia after Unfair Trials, ASA 01/023/2011. A copy of this report is attached with this letter. These concerns include the very restricted public access to the courts, as well as ‘the requirement for trials to be completed within seven working days, putting judges under extreme pressure to convict.’

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and without exceptions. ADPAN is an independent regional network comprising lawyers, NGOs and civil society groups from 24 countries including Pakistan.  It campaigns for an end to the death penalty across the Asia-Pacific region.

We welcome the fact that no executions have been carried out in Pakistan since late 2008, but death sentences continue to be imposed, with at least 313 handed down in 2011. Over half of all those sentenced to death in 2011 were found guilty of murder, while others were convicted of drug trafficking and rape to kidnapping for ransom. Three were sentenced to death for blasphemy, but no one has ever been executed for blasphemy. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that over 8,300 people are currently on death row.

The resumption of executions after almost four years would place Pakistan in opposition to regional and global trends towards the abolition of the death penalty. As of May 2012, more than two-thirds of all countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Most recently, in March this year, Mongolia became the 141st country to have joined this group of countries by becoming a state party to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Out of 41 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, 17 have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, 10 are abolitionist in practice and one – Fiji – uses the death penalty only for exceptional military crimes. Over the years UN and regional bodies have adopted resolutions, recommendations and instruments to support the abolition of the death penalty. Since 2007 the UN General Assembly has adopted with large majorities resolutions calling for the establishment of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Amnesty International and ADPAN reiterate its appeal to you to stop the execution of Behram Khan, to establish a moratorium on executions and commute all death sentences.

Yours sincerely,

 

Pollyanna Truscott                                                                                                                                Kamran Arif

Deputy Asia-Pacific Director                                                                                                            Co-chair

International Secretariat, Amnesty International                                                                  Human Rights Commission Pakistan

 

ADPAN-AI open letter Behram Khan_FINAL pdf

URGENT ACTION: Executions set to resume in Pakistan

The execution of Behram Khan by hanging has been scheduled for 30 June. It would be the first execution in Pakistan in almost four years and could pave the way for authorities to carry out more death sentences. Only the President of Pakistan can permanently halt his execution.

Behram Khan was sentenced to death by an Anti-Terrorism Court on 23 June 2003 for the murder of lawyer Mohammad Ashraf. On 15 April 2003, Behram Khan came to the Sindh High Court, intending to kill Qurban Ali Chauhan, a lawyer representing a man accused of killing Behram Khan’s maternal uncle. Mistaking him for Qurban Ali Chauhan, Behram Khan killed Mohammad Ashraf. A sub-inspector of police, Pir Bux, who accompanied Behram Khan to the court, was sentenced to life imprisonment for assisting with the killing.

Appeals against Behram Khan’s death sentence at both the Sindh High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan were rejected, as was a subsequent mercy petition submitted to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. On 10 May, following the dismissal of the mercy petition, an Anti-Terrorism Court issued a final warrant for Behram Khan’s execution on 23 May. On 17 May however, the President issued a stay order, postponing the execution until 30 June.

The execution would be the first to take place in Pakistan since late 2008 and the first under the current government.

Please write immediately in English, Urdu or your own language:

Calling on President Zardari to immediately halt Behram Khan’s execution;

Reminding President Zardari of Amnesty International’s position that the death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment, and a violation of the right to life;

Calling for the Pakistan government to establish an official moratorium on all executions in the country, including Behram Kahn’s, as a first step towards abolition of the death penalty, in line with the growing global trend, and UN General Assembly resolutions 62/149 (2007), 63/168 (2008) and 65/206 (2010);

Urging the Pakistan President to commute all existing death sentences.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 30 JUNE 2012 TO:

President

Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan Secretariat, Islamabad

Pakistan, Fax: +92 51 920 4974

Email: publicmail@president.gov.pk

Salutation: Dear President

EXECUTIONS SET TO RESUME IN PAKISTAN

Additional Information

The Pakistan Government has not carried out executions since late 2008, but death sentences continue to be imposed, with at least 313 handed down in 2011. Over half of all those sentenced to death last year were found guilty of murder, while others were convicted of offences ranging from drug trafficking and rape to kidnapping for ransom. Three persons were sentenced to death for blasphemy, but no one has ever been executed for this offence in Pakistan’s history. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates that over 8,300 people are currently on death row.

 The resumption of executions after a hiatus of almost four years would place Pakistan in opposition to regional and global trends towards abolition of the death penalty. As of May 2012, more than two-thirds of all countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Most recently, on 13 March 2012, Mongolia became the 141st country to join this group by becoming a state party to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

 Out of 41 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, 17 have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, 10 are abolitionist in practice and one – Fiji – uses the death penalty only for exceptional military crimes. Over the years several UN and regional bodies have discussed and adopted resolutions, recommendations and instruments to support the call for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. In 2007, 2008 and 2010 the UN General Assembly adopted with large majorities resolutions 62/149, 63/168 and 65/206 respectively, calling for the establishment of a moratorium on the use of the death penalty “with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”

 Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, considering it a violation of the right to life as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

URGENT ACTION: Man sentenced to death for blasphemy

A Pakistani man, Muhammad Ishaq, who lives in New York State, USA, has been sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan.

A district court in Punjab province upheld Muhammad Ishaq’s death sentence, which had been handed down to him in July 2009 by a court in his home town, Talagang, for insulting the Prophet Muhammad (section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code). He was also given a 10-year prison sentence and fined 200,000 Rupees. His lawyer is seeking to appeal the decision to the Lahore High Court.

Muhammad Ishaq has lived in the USA for around 30 years, but is a patron of Talagang’s Sufi Pir Faisal Shah shrine. He had been visiting the town when he was accused by a man known only as Asadullah of claiming to be a messenger of God and getting local people to worship him. He was immediately arrested by local police.

A senior-superintendent of police in Talagang who investigated the matter refused to pursue the charges, saying he needed to maintain communal harmony in the town. The decision was challenged in the Chakwal District Court, but out of fear the verdict would provoke violence in the area, the case was moved to a court in neighbouring Jhelum District which eventually found Muhammad Ishaq guilty of blasphemy. He was refused bail by successive courts, including the Supreme Court, and he has been in prison since the accusations were brought over three years ago.

Muhammad Ishaq denies the charges of blasphemy, saying he never asked his followers to worship him, nor did he claim to be a messenger of God. A video has emerged showing local people touching his feet, a practice common in many parts of Pakistan and Sufi practitioners to signify respect. Muhammad Ishaq believes that members of a rival faction brought the charges in an attempt to take control of the Pir Faisal Shah shrine.

Please write immediately in English, Urdu or your own language:

  • Calling on President Zardari to ensure immediately that Muhammad Ishaq is not executed;
  • Calling on the authorities to release Muhammad Ishaq immediately, or else charge him with a recognizably criminal offence and try him in accordance with international human rights standards;
  • Urging Pakistani authorities to fulfil the pledge to review and improve “laws detrimental to religious harmony”, announced by Prime Minister Gilani in August 2009, and reform or abolish the blasphemy laws;
  • Calling for an immediate moratorium on all executions in the country, with a view to eventual abolition of the death penalty.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 22 MARCH 2012 TO:

President

Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan Secretariat, Islamabad, Pakistan
Fax: +92 51 920 4974
E-mail: publicmail@president.gov.pk
Salutation: Dear President Zardari

Chief Minister, Punjab

Mian Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif
Chief Minister Punjab
Chief Minister’s Office
7, Club Road, GOR I
Lahore, Pakistan
Fax: +92 42 9920 5065
Salutation: Dear Chief Minister Sharif

Minister of Law

Rana Sanullah
3 Patiala House GOR 1

Pakistan
Fax: +92 42 9920 1064
Salutation: Dear Minister Sanaullah

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.

URGENT ACTION

MAN SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR BLASPHEMY

Additional Information

Pakistan’s current blasphemy laws were first introduced during British rule in the 19th century and were amended in 1982 and 1986 by the military regime of General Zia ul Haq to make the defiling the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad criminal offenses, punishable with life in prison and death respectively. The laws are vaguely formulated and arbitrarily enforced by the police and judiciary. Religious minorities have been disproportionately accused of blasphemy, but the majority of victims are mainstream Muslims, reflecting the danger these laws pose to all members of Pakistani society and the rule of law.

Charges brought against individuals under the blasphemy laws are often founded on the individuals’ minority religious beliefs or unfounded accusations stemming from personal enmity, frequently aiming to imprison people to gain advantage in business or land disputes. Police frequently fail to record and investigate complaints and justice is impeded by judicial bias against religious minorities. Many of those accused or suspected of blasphemy have been assaulted or tortured. Some people detained on blasphemy charges in prisons have been killed by fellow detainees or prison wardens. Others suspected of blasphemy, but not under arrest, have been unlawfully killed without police taking any action to protect them. In 2010 Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology, a constitutional body mandated to advise the state on Islamic issues, called for the blasphemy laws to be reformed, citing these concerns. Although the government in 2009 pledged to review “laws detrimental to religious harmony” like the blasphemy laws, it fell silent after the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, and Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated, in January and March 2011 respectively, in part because of their criticism of the blasphemy laws.

Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code makes it an offence punishable by death or life imprisonment to ‘defile’ the Prophet Mohammed. The Federal Shariat Court, whose tasks include reviewing laws to ensure they conform to Islamic doctrine, ruled in 1990 that anyone convicted of blasphemy should face the death penalty, not life imprisonment. The Government appealed, but dropped the appeal in 1991. People found guilty under section 295-C have been sentenced to death ever since but no one has yet been executed.

Articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, opinion and expression. International human rights law provides that any limitations placed on these freedoms should be only such as are prescribed by law as well as being necessary and proportionate for, among other things, the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Name: Muhammad Ishaq

Gender m/f: m

UA: 41/12 Index: ASA 33/001/2012 Issue Date: 10 February 2012