ISLAMABAD: Last year, Pakistan awarded death penalty to at least 584 people, out of which 17 were convicted for "blasphemy", and 15 were executed.
This was revealed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its annual report released on Thursday. The report, a copy of which has been accessed by IANS, said, "The state of human rights across the country is indeed dire."
According to a report submitted to the Law and Justice Commission, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had overturned the death penalty in 78 per cent of 310 judgments between 2010 and 2018, "either acquitting the accused, commuting the sentence, or ordering a review".
Yet, "death penalty was awarded in at least 584 cases in 2019, while 15 people were executed, 12 of them in Punjab. As of December 2019, at least 17 people convicted of blasphemy were still on death row," the Human Rights Commission said in its report.
In December, a Multan district and sessions court had handed down a death sentence to academic Junaid Hafeez on charges of blasphemy. "The decision dismayed human rights observers, given that Hafeez had already spent six years in solitary confinement," the commission said.
The criminal code of Pakistan punishes blasphemy against Islam. Though blasphemy laws were enacted by the British colonial authorities in the undivided India, Pakistan under military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq made them more stringent in its drive to Islamise the country. Pakistani Parliament in 1974, under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, had declared Ahmadi Muslims as non-Muslims.
Many people who were accused of or opposed blasphemy in Pakistan were murdered. In 2010, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging on a flimsy charge of blasphemy.
A year later, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Roman Catholic and Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Affairs, was killed in Islamabad for defying threats over his efforts to reform blasphemy laws.
Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his security guard in 2011 for supporting Asia. Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered following blasphemy allegations, as per media reports.
Between 1987 and 2017, 1,500 people in Pakistan were charged with blasphemy and 75 of them were killed, as per the Center for Social Justice.