ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Human rights activists have urged the government to safeguard religious freedom and promote justice by releasing Anwar Kenneth who has been on death row for over 21 years.
Anwar Kenneth was convicted of blasphemy under section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code and has faced a prolonged period of incarceration without fair trial proceedings.
The case against Anwar Kenneth originated from an objectionable letter he allegedly sent to Muslim religious scholars, along with copies of his correspondence with Haji Mehmood Zafar, head of states in the World, foreign diplomats in Pakistan, and the United Nations’ Secretary-General, as well as Christian theologians. He replied to a communication from Haji Mehmood Zafar, where questions were raised about Christianity, and Anwar Kenneth expressed his beliefs based on the Holy Bible, asserting that Muhammad was not a prophet of God, which is a fundamental belief of Muslims and was considered as committing blasphemy against Islam.
Joseph Jansen, a minority rights activist, emphasized that religious freedom is a fundamental human right enshrined in national and international laws. Anwar Kenneth’s arguments and opinions should not be misconstrued as an act of blasphemy but rather as an exercise of his right to freedom of belief.
Jansen argued that blasphemy laws are often misused for personal vendettas, leading to unjust imprisonment and lifelong suffering for the accused and their families.
Abdul Hameed Rana, an advocate for Anwar Kenneth, highlighted the absence of credible evidence and witnesses supporting the charges against his client.
Rana asserted that billions of people around the world have diverse religious beliefs including Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians who do not adhere to Islam, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), or the Holy Quran, and they should not face prosecution solely based on their beliefs.
Rana demanded Anwar Kenneth’s acquittal, stating that he has already spent 23 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
Human rights activist Shamaun Alfred stressed the importance of revisiting Anwar Kenneth’s case in light of the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling that upholds the protection of religious beliefs for minorities as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan.
They argued that the written communication between Anwar Kenneth and Haji Mehmood Zafar, representing their respective faiths, should not be deemed blasphemous. Instead, it should be recognized as an exercise of their right to engage in religious dialogue and expression.
The rights activists called for a fair trial for Anwar Kenneth and urge the Pakistani government to grant him the opportunity to lead a dignified life free from the constraints of prolonged imprisonment.
They emphasized that framing a blasphemy case requires substantial evidence, and the differing beliefs of various faiths should be respected. The religious leaders involved in the correspondence were merely sharing their beliefs in line with their religious teachings, which should not be treated as a criminal offense.
As defenders of justice rights activists strongly urged the Pakistani government to take immediate action to release Anwar Kenneth, ensuring that his rights to religious freedom and a fair trial are upheld. By doing so, the government will demonstrate its commitment to protecting the rights of its citizens and promoting an inclusive society that respects diverse religious beliefs.