Hopes for freedom of two Christian brothers on death row under the blasphemy laws were dashed this month when a high court upheld their death sentence despite a lack of evidence against them, their lawyers said.
Qaiser Ayub, 45, and Amoon Ayub, 42, have been incarcerated since 2014, and their appeal of the death sentence before the Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi Bench had been pending since 2018. Justice Raja Shahid Mehmood Abbasi and Justice Chaudhry Abdul Aziz took up their appeal on Feb. 28 but did not announce their verdict until June 8, Advocate Khurram Maan said.
“We were quite hopeful that the judges would take note that the trial court had convicted our clients on the basis of a shoddy investigation and evidence, but we were shocked when the court announced its verdict on June 8, after a delay of three months,” Maan told Kross Konnection.
Maan, of the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ), is representing Amoon Ayub, while Tahir Bashir of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) is defending Qaiser Ayub. Maan and Bashir said there is no evidence that implicates the Ayub brothers in the blasphemy charge.
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Bashir said the brothers, incarcerated in the Sahiwal District Jail, were “very sad and disappointed” when informed about the appeal verdict.
“Qaiser has three children, while Amoon is childless,” Bashir told Kross Konnection. “Both men were devastated when they learned that their appeal for justice has been denied.”
The case against the brothers was registered in June 2011 on a complaint by Talagang resident Muhammad Saeed, who alleged he came across a blog containing blasphemous material, Maan said. The blog was created by friends of Qaiser Ayub who were reportedly resentful over a conflict with him, and they had put his name, phone number, email address, and office address on their site, Maan said.
Qaiser Ayub’s friends had registered the website under Amoon Ayub’s name, and based on that and the contact information on the blog, police filed charges against both brothers and arrested them, Maan said.
“None of that information proved that either of the two brothers actually authored or posted the blasphemous material on the blogging website,” he said.
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The lawyer said that Amoon Ayub was a music teacher at a private school in Lahore and was running a small charity for welfare of Christians, the United Christian Organisation (UCO), with his older brother, Qaiser Ayub. The brothers also operated a website where they posted news about the activities of their organisation, he added.
“The case against the brothers was based on the blasphemous content posted on a blog which, according to the brothers’ testimonies, was created by the Muslim friends of Qaiser using their contact information from the original website after a fight broke out between them over one of the friend’s sister,” Maan said.
The trial court convicted both brothers in December 2018, reasoning that the presence of their contact information on the blog and their failure to approach the website administrator to remove the contact details showed that they were responsible for creating it.
“Both the trial court and the high court refused to accept that any person can create a website and post anybody’s name and address on it,” Maan said.
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During the appeal, Maan told the court that the brothers’ authentic website was online for only a year and had no blasphemous content on it.
“I pleaded with the court to inquire of the Cybercrime Wing of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) why they had failed to authenticate the creator of the blasphemous blog from the WordPress management, to which the investigating officer said the company was not responding to their request,” Maan said.
The FIA did state to the court that it had held a “technical meeting” with the complainant, after which the charges were filed, Maan said, “but the fact is that the complainant is not even a matriculate so how could he have such a meeting with the agency?”
The lawyer said that he also cited a recent judgement by the Lahore High Court which held that a blasphemous text message found in the phone of an appellant in another case was insufficient evidence for conviction.
“The appellant could be convicted only if the prosecution establishes that the phone was in his use and that he authored and sent the alleged text message,” according to the verdict. “Similarly, in the Ayub brothers’ case, the prosecution did not establish that they authored or posted the blasphemous material on the blog. However, the court disregarded the submissions and relevant case law.”
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SUPREME COURT APPEAL
Advocate Bashir said the defence hopes the Supreme Court will administer justice to the falsely accused brothers.
“The SC must also take cognizance of the fact that trial courts and high courts tend to become prejudicial if the case is of Section 295-C,” he said, referring to prolonged delays in trials and hearing of appeals. Section 295-C of the blasphemy statutes calls for a mandatory death sentence for those found guilty of the alleged crime.
Talking to Kross Konnection, Church of Pakistan Moderator Bishop Dr Azad Marshall said it was unfortunate that Pakistani courts tend to convict the accused charged under Section 295-C even if there is little or no evidence at all against them.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on the courts when they deal with such cases. Justice should be administered without pressure and religious prejudice, but unfortunately we have witnessed a lot of hostility toward the accused in blasphemy cases,” he said.
Bishop Marshall said there was a need to implement proper procedures for cases registered under the blasphemy statutes, their investigation, and the judicial process.
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“Those charged with blasphemy, regardless of their faith affiliations, are forced to languish in jails for years during the trial and appeal processes because of the high security risks involved in such cases. The State must intervene to stop this miscarriage of justice,” he added.
Moreover, he said the trend of false accusations of blasphemy must be deterred by introducing stern penalties for false accusers.
“We have repeatedly urged the government to legislate against false accusations of blasphemy. The Council of Islamic Ideology and the Senate’s Special Committee on Human Rights have both recommended equal punishments for false accusers but sadly nothing has been done so far to legislate on this crucial issue,” he said.
The mere accusation of blasphemy often provokes mob violence and lynching of suspects in Pakistan, while penalties are light for those who make such false accusations. At least 1,949 blasphemy suspects were subjected to false allegations, prolonged trials and displacement between 1985 and December 2021, according to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
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The CSJ added that at least 84 people were killed after being suspected or accused under blasphemy laws since their promulgation as part of former military ruler Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation during the 1980s. Mobs lynched two people and injured two others in four cities of Pakistan between December 2021 and March 2022.