Anwar Kenneth, a Christian Man on Death Row on Blasphemy Charges, Files Final Appeal Against the Death Sentence in Supreme Court of Pakistan

Lahore, 22 July – Anwar Kenneth, a Christian man who has been on death row for over 22 years, has filed a final appeal against his death sentence in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This appeal comes as a desperate bid to overturn the original conviction, which was based on charges of blasphemy under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Anwar Kenneth was arrested on 14 September 2001, and his case has been a matter of grave concern for human rights activists, both within Pakistan and across the international community. He was convicted after a letter he sent to Haji Mehmood Zafar, a Muslim religious scholar and complainant, and other prominent figures, expressing his beliefs as a Christian.

An Additional Session Court in Lahore found Kenneth guilty on 18 July 2002 of defaming the sacred name of The Holy Prophet under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Kenneth was sentenced to death and ordered to pay a fine of 500,000 rupees. The Lahore High Court on 30 June 2014 upheld the initial conviction and sentenced Anwar Kenneth to death by hanging.

Anwar Kenneth, a former officer in the government’s Fisheries Department of Pakistan, was in his 40s when he was arrested. His letter exchange with Haji Mehmood and others proves that Anwar was an educated Christian, proficient in English, with a profound understanding of the Bible. His letter exchanges were part of a scholarly debate where religious arguments and principles were shared.

Anwar Kenneth has filed a final appeal against the death sentence in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Joseph Jansen, a dedicated minority rights activist, reiterates that sharing one’s religious opinion or belief in the context of a civilized debate should never lead to a charge of blasphemy with a resulting death sentence. It limits the right to religious freedom and freedom of expression to a grave extent.

The prolonged period of incarceration without a fair trial has raised serious questions about the application of justice and the safeguarding of religious freedom in Pakistan. Human rights activists have strongly advocated for a fair trial for Anwar Kenneth, emphasizing that religious freedom is a fundamental human right enshrined in both national and international laws.

Jansen passionately argues that Anwar Kenneth’s right to freedom of belief should be respected and that his arguments and opinions should not be misconstrued as an act of blasphemy. From accounts of other Christians who were imprisoned in the same cell as Anwar, he is experiencing a lot of pain and trauma. However, he has remained humble and has shown a high level of morality, helping other inmates where he can.

Hameed Rana, an unwavering advocate for Anwar Kenneth, strongly asserts that his client has endured over two decades behind bars for sharing his belief. Rana calls for Anwar Kenneth’s immediate acquittal, stating that his client’s case exemplifies the need for a fair and just legal system in Pakistan.

Shamaun Alfred, a prominent human rights activist, stresses the importance of revisiting Anwar Kenneth’s case, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s landmark 2022 ruling that upholds the protection of religious beliefs for minorities as guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan. Alfred argues that the written communication between Anwar Kenneth and the individuals involved should be seen as an exercise of their right to engage in religious dialogue and expression, rather than an act of blasphemy.

Joseph Jansen said that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are incompatible with international human rights standards and that the ongoing misuse of blasphemy laws and the escalating violence against religious minorities necessitate immediate and effective measures to safeguard the rights and lives of all citizens. He asserts that it is the responsibility of the government and society as a whole to foster an environment of tolerance, respect for diversity, and the protection of human rights for every individual, irrespective of their religious beliefs.

The final appeal filed by Anwar Kenneth in the Supreme Court of Pakistan represents a critical moment in his long and arduous journey toward justice and the protection of his religious freedom.

[IMAGE: CC BY-SA 3.0File:Supreme Court of Pakistan, Islamabad by Usman Ghani ]