The US religious watchdog appealed Friday for the rights of a Pakistani woman from the country’s minority Ahmadis who has been jailed on blasphemy charges, declaring her a prisoner of conscience and urging Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to immediately set her free.
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The statement by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom said 55-year-old Ramazan Bibi was jailed last April under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law that carries the death penalty.
Under the law, anyone accused of insulting Islam can be sentenced to death if found guilty. While authorities have yet to carry out a death sentence for blasphemy, just the accusation of blasphemy can incite mobs in Pakistan.
“The Pakistani government must immediately release Ramzan Bibi, and all others detained for blasphemy,” said commission head James W. Carr.
Domestic and international human rights groups say blasphemy allegations have often been used to intimidate religious minorities in Pakistan and to settle personal scores.
“Authorities allowing these laws to be used for personal gain or vendetta are only enabling systematic discrimination based on religious belief,” Carr added.
The Ahmadi faith was established on the Indian subcontinent in the 19th century by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whose followers believe he was the messiah that was promised by the Prophet Muhammad. Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims in 1974. Since then, they have repeatedly been targeted by extremists in the Muslim-majority nation.
Bibi was jailed after a dispute over a donation she tried to make to a non-Ahmadi mosque in her village in Punjab province. The donation was rejected and when she sought an explanation from her non-Ahmadi relatives, a quarrel erupted followed by an assault on Bibi, according to members of her community.
Mainstream Muslim clerics later alleged she was blasphemous and brought out an alleged witness to corroborate their allegations.
“She is facing imprisonment simply because of her Ahmadi faith,” said the US commission.
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