Humanists UK challenges Pakistan’s blasphemy laws at the United Nations Human Rights Council

19 March, 2018

The United National Human Rights Council in Geneva

In a statement at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Humanists UK has condemned Pakistan’s blasphemy law and called for it to be abolished. The law against blasphemy, which in practice also criminalises apostasy, is incompatible with human rights standards as set out by the Rabat Plan of Action and punishments for breaching is can be as severe as life imprisonment or death. Humanists UK’s statement, part of a UN Periodic Review (UPR) into Pakistan’s human rights record, stated that such laws are frequently used as a tool with which to crackdown on freedom of expression and encourage harmful identity politics.

Delivered by Dr David Harvey, Humanists UK’s intervention spoke out against Pakistan’s continued refusal to end blasphemy and apostasy laws that have led to the conviction of hundreds of people. Dr Harvey said:

‘In 2013 the Council of Islamic Ideology, the constitutional body that advises the legislature on the compatibility of its laws with Islam, recommended against any softening of Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws. The Federal Shariat Court, too, has stated unequivocally that the death penalty is the only appropriate sentence for those convicted of blasphemy.

‘This was the sentence conferred on Sawan Masih, for instance, in 2014 – a Christian man from Lahore whose trial had to be conducted in jail due to fears over his safety. Indeed, since 1990 there have been at least 67 murders committed extra-judicially over unproven allegations of blasphemy or apostasy. This includes humanist Mashal Khan who was beaten to death at his university in April 2017 for supposedly blasphemous comments made during a university debate on freedom of religion or belief.’

As well as condemning Pakistan for its blasphemy law, Humanists UK highlighted the plight of Hamza bin Walayat, a Pakistani apostate seeking asylum in the UK, and called on the Home Office to recognise the very real danger he faces should  he be forced to return to Pakistan.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Pakistan remains a dangerous place for those whose beliefs leave them vulnerable to accusations of blasphemy. Even outside of the courts, the risk of severe harm and, all too often, death means that urgent reform of its blasphemy law, as well as wider attitudes towards freedom of belief, are needed to prevent more lives being lost in Pakistan.’    


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 3675 0959.

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At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.