Salma Tanveer

Name: Salma Tanveer

Country/Area of Origin: Lahore, Pakistan

Background: Tanveer, 50, is a Mulslim woman who worked as a headmistress of a private school in Lahore prior to her arrest.

Reason for Arrest:

Salma Tanveer had been allegedly disseminating photocopies of her various writings under the name “Mercy for all words”, a quote spoken by the Prophet Muhammad in the Qur’an. The photocopied writings also reportedly “denied the finality of Prophethood”, a major contravention to the Muslim belief that Muhammad is the last prophet. In early September 2013, Lahore police registered a blasphemy case against Tanveer under Section 295C of the national penal code at the request of local imam Qari Iftikhar Ahmad Raza. As already highlighted in numerous other cases of Pakistani prisoners of conscience, Section 295C allows for the death penalty and/or life imprisonment as punishment for committing blasphemy.

Tanveer’s case has remained relatively idle over the past eight years, the hearing having been postponed at least once; however, in late September 2021 it came under mass scrutiny when Judge Qureshi sentenced Tanveer to death by hanging for blasphemy along with fine of 50,000 Pakistani Rupees (≈USD $292). This judgement was concluded despite that Tanveer’s lawyers submitted medical records seven years earlier in 2014 finding that she was “suffering from Schizoaffective Disorder” at the time of the alleged blasphemy and was unfit to stand trial.

Article 84 of Pakistan’s Penal Code states that “Act of a person of unsound mind: Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law.” However, at the same time, the prosecution submitted a dissenting report by the Punjab Institute of Mental Health that stated that Tanveer was “fit to stand trial as she was not mentally deranged.”

Moreover, “the defence counsel further argued that the comparison of writing from photocopies was not possible as tampering had been made in the photocopies of the alleged documents.”

In response to the newly submitted and oppositional medical reports, Judge Mansoor Ahmed Qureshi stated that “it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused woman wrote and distributed derogatory writings against the Prophet Muhammad and failed to prove that her case falls under the exception provided for in section 84 of the PPC.” Judge Qureshi’s reasoning for his remarks was that Tanveer cannot be mentally unfit as she had been running a school up until the date of her initial arrest in 2013. Judge Qureshi rejected the new medical report and made this statement regarding Tanveer’s mental state despite having no expertise himself in the field of psychiatry.

Catholic leader Sabir Michael, in response to the recent news of Tanveer’s case, stated the following:

“It is worrying that another Pakistani citizen has been sentenced to death under the blasphemy law. Inalienable human dignity and human rights, we oppose the death penalty in any case. Even in cases of blasphemy, the accused does not endanger the life of others. While noting that religious feelings are hurt, the death sentence seems to be a severe measures, which can be reconsidered.”

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