PAKISTAN is coming under growing international pressure to reform its blasphemy laws, after a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, received a death sentence for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
The Anglican mission society USPG is calling for urgent legal and political reform, and is running an email campaign to put pressure on the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, to release Mrs Bibi. The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) has also lobbied David Cameron, to intervene.
The BPCA was due to present a petition to the Prime Minister yesterday at Downing Street, and to the Pakistani High Commission in London, protesting at Mrs Bibi’s sentence.
The vice-chairman of the BPCA, Wilson Chowdhry, said: “Asia Bibi is being persecuted for her strong moral and religious beliefs. This is a consequence of the biased blasphemy law of Pakistan that is frequently being used to promote an agenda of terror on all minority faith groups as well as a means to settle personal vendettas.”
The Bishop of Lahore, Dr Alexander Malik, said: “We condemn the wide growing misuse of the blasphemy law; the international community has to put pressure on the Pakistan government, as such incidents are increasing at an alarming rate.”
The All India Christian Council has also condemned the death sentence passed on Mrs Bibi. It has asked the Indian government to raise the matter with the UN Human Rights Council, and with the Pakistani government.
Mrs Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, told reporters at his home, near Lahore: “We have never insulted the Prophet, or Islamic scripture, and we will contest the charges.”
The precise details of the case are unclear, although it is thought to have originated in a dispute between women working in the fields. Mr Masih has described it as a “trivial tussle between women”.
Human-rights campaigners have long called for the punitive blasphemy laws to be scrapped. Although no one has yet been executed under the laws, earlier this year a woman was released after being held in prison for 14 years for blasphemy.
The BPCA has a petition on its website, and is also appealing for funds to support Mrs Bibi’s family.