Urgent Call for Intervention in the Case of Pakistani Christian Anwar Kenneth, Unjustly Imprisoned 22 Years on Death Row for Expression of Religious Belief

WASHINGTON DC – 3 April 2024 | Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on April 18th, Jubilee Campaign urgently calls on Pakistan authorities to work for the release of Pakistani Christian man Anwar Kenneth. Authorities have arbitrarily imprisoned Anwar Kenneth on death row for more than twenty years for exercising his guaranteed human right of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion

Anwar Kenneth, a former officer at Pakistan’s Fisheries Department, was initially arrested by Pakistani authorities in September 2001 on charges of blasphemy in connection with a letter he had written to a Muslim leader and notable scholar, ulama Haji Mehmood Zafar, in which he divulged his beliefs as a practitioner of Christianity. On 18 July 2002, an Additional Session Court in Lahore found Kenneth guilty of “defaming” and “insulting” the Prophet Muhammad, sentencing the defendant to capital punishment and a fine of 500,000 Pakistani rupees according to the highly contentious Article 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860). What has ensued since the court sentenced him to two decades of legal uncertainty and personal turmoil and denied him his right to a fair trial, is the repeated postponement of his appeal, the deterioration of his physical and mental health, and the severe emotional toll on his family relationships due to the prolonged separation.

In 2014, the Lahore High Court reviewed Kenneth’s case and upheld his sentence of capital punishment, remanding him to death row where he would remain for another decade. The defendant’s family has lamented that they have experienced obstacles to visiting with him, increasingly so within the past five months, having resorted to paying a bribe to prison officials. Kenneth’s nephew, in his most recent meeting with his uncle, observed that Kenneth’s health appears to be deteriorating; already in his adult years when detained in 2002, Kenneth is now in his sixties. His elder sister, nearly twenty years his senior, reiterated her wishes to see him released from prison in her lifetime, and his son has long since fled Pakistan due to threats to his and his family’s life by radical Muslim community members.

Experts on minority rights and conditions of religious persecution in Pakistan have raised concerns with the nation’s anti-blasphemy laws and their application in Anwar Kenneth’s case, notably that he has been conferred the most severe and irreversible sentence for sharing his faith beliefs, conduct which is explicitly protected in both domestic legislation and international human rights conventions to which Pakistan has acceded.

The 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Article 20 grants citizens the right to “profess, practice and propagate his religion” and faith communities the right to “establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions”. More recently, in April 2008, Pakistan formally ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – whose 18th Article proclaims that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, comprising the rights to adopt a faith of one’s choice and convert one’s faith freely, manifest one’s faith in public or in private and alone or in community with others, and teach one’s faith. Additionally, Article 19 sets forth that everyone is guaranteed freedom of expression, including “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print….”

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, in a debate on religious insult, decided that “freedom of expression is not only applicable to expressions that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that may shock, offend or disturb the state or any sector of population”. The UN Human Rights Committee, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and UN Secretary-General have each reiterated concerns with anti-blasphemy laws, and the Committee has stressed that such laws criminalising religious speech are inherently incompatible with international standards of human rights. More than fifty countries[1]  [including Muslim-majority countries] in 2021 signed a joint statement calling on states to abolish capital punishment for religious insult, as “there are no circumstances in which the death penalty should ever be imposed or carried out as a sanction against persons for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms”. In his annual report on the question of the death penalty in August 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General asserted his stance that capital punishment “should especially not be imposed as a sanction for forms of non-violent conduct such as apostasy [and] blasphemy”.

Pakistan derelicts on its own legal principles and its international obligations by repeatedly and unscrupulously applying Penal Code Article 295-C which abhorrently imposes death as the punishment – or, alternatively, life imprisonment – against any individual found guilty of “by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, directly or indirectly” insulting or defiling Prophet Muhammad.

Jubilee Campaign calls on Pakistan authorities:

  • To ensure the imminent release of Anwar Kenneth and ensure his protection throughout. 
  •  To – in line with the Rabat Plan of Action and the Istanbul Process – repeal its anti-blasphemy laws which violate fundamental human rights enshrined in international law and are counterproductive in: fostering tolerant societies and facilitating inter religious dialogue. 
Jubilee Campaign also urges the European Union and its member states: 

  • To collaborate with European diplomatic personnel and do everything they can to provide protection and support for Anwar Kenneth, resolutely reaching out to the authorities involved in this case;
  • To facilitate the issuance of emergency visas and to offer international protection for Anwar Kenneth and other victims of anti-blasphemy laws, that stand accused for peacefully exercising their rights, including human rights defenders, should they need to leave Pakistan;
  • To call urgently on Pakistan authorities and the Supreme Court to free Anwar Kenneth.



Tel: +1 (703) 503 2260 

Fax: (703) 503-0792 


[Photo by Ihtasham Ali on Unsplash]

[1] Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States