Pakistan: Call on Supreme Court to drop charges against blasphemy accused Anwar Kenneth

The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is deeply concerned about the case of Anwar Kenneth, a former government official who was sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in what the OMCT considers an unfair trial in 2002. Anwar Kenneth appealed his death sentence to the Supreme Court, which is expected to hold its final hearing in the case in early April 2024. We urge the Supreme Court to respect Pakistan’s international human rights law obligations and ensure the safety and release of Anwar Kenneth.

“My brother was a Bible scholar and often engaged in scholastic discussions with his Muslim friends and religious leaders,” said Kenneth’s 83-year-old sister, Reshma Bibi. “He also communicated his religious ideas and values through his letter-writing, but he was never disrespectful towards any holy personality. It was one of these letters that was used to silence him.”

Mr. Anwar Kenneth, an officer in the Government's Fisheries Department, was arrested in June 2001. A case of blasphemy was then registered against him, and the judiciary sentenced him to death and a fine of 500,000 rupees (US$8,335) in July 2002. He appealed to the Supreme Court in 2023. During the last hearing in March 2024, the Supreme Court, in an unusual move, asked for several expert opinions, including from the Council of Islamic Ideology. While this body is mandated by the Constitution to make recommendations to the legislature and the executive, it is not assigned to do so in relation to the secular Supreme Court.

For more than 22 years, Mr. Kenneth has been on death row and in solitary confinement for most of the time. His family has found it difficult to visit him. His nephews were first denied access to the prison and were only allowed to see him after paying a bribe. His wife and siblings are unable to visit him for health reasons. In addition, Mr. Kenneth’s health is deteriorating. His family reported that he appeared stressed and frail.

Arrests and cases filed under blasphemy laws increased in recent years. It was reported that blasphemy provisions are mostly used to persecute religious minorities. Since convictions for blasphemy carry the death penalty defendants spend decades on death row while their cases linger before courts.

Several international human rights bodies have criticised the blasphemy laws. The UN Human Rights Committee noted that blasphemy laws are incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) except in narrow circumstances of incitement of religious hate or violence. In its review of Pakistan’s compliance with the ICCPR, the HRC in 2017 expressed concern about the mandatory death penalty for blasphemy and asked Pakistan to repeal all blasphemy laws or amend them in compliance with the strict requirements of the ICCPR. In the same year, the UN Committee against Torture which reviewed Pakistan was deeply concerned about the treatment of those imprisoned on blasphemy charges and about the lack of protection for people from religious minorities accused of blasphemy.

We call on the Supreme Court to decide the case in light of Pakistan’s international law obligations and to drop all charges against Mr. Kenneth.

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts