Washington, DC – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) condemned the arrest of Ramzan Bibi, a 55-year-old Ahmadi Muslim woman in Cheleki, Pakistan, on blasphemy charges.
“While we recognize that the Pakistani government has made positive steps in promoting religious freedom over the past year, the arrest of Ramzan Bibi represents a step in the wrong direction,” said USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava. “We strongly urge Pakistani authorities to release Ms. Bibi from jail and drop all charges against her.”
On April 30, a written complaint submitted to the police alleged that Ms. Bibi made blasphemous remarks during a personal dispute over the return of her charitable donation to a local mosque. She was charged under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, an offence that carries the death penalty. As highlighted in a recent USCIRF policy update about Pakistan’s blasphemy law, USCIRF is aware of nearly 80 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges, half of whom face life imprisonment or the death penalty.
USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins added, “The ongoing abuse of the blasphemy law is a significant barrier to the freedom of religion or belief in Pakistan. Ms. Bibi should be released from jail alongside other prisoners of conscience, especially given the heightened dangers of imprisonment during the current COVID-19 crisis.”
In its 2020 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended the State Department redesignate Pakistan as a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC, in part because of the “systematic enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadiyya laws,” which often target religious minority communities.