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Pakistan court upholds Asia Bibi's death sentence

16 October 2014


Solidarity: Juliet Chowdhry joins a BPCA protest held in September 2013, after the bombing of All Saints, Peshawar ( News, 20 September, 2013). She lost 13 members of her family in the bombing.  

Solidarity: Juliet Chowdhry joins a BPCA protest held in September 2013, after the bombing of All Saints, Peshawar ( News, 20 September, 2013). She lost 13 members of her family in the bombing.  

THE Pakistani High Court of Appeal has upheld the death sentence passed down four years ago to Asia Bibi, a Christian woman found guilty of blasphemy (News, 19 November, 2010).

Mrs Bibi, a 49-year-old mother, was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in 2009. She says that she was falsely accused by some Muslim women who bore her a grudge. Her sentence, passed down by a regional court near Lahore in 2010, provoked an international outcry, including pleas for her release by the Pope and the then Archbishop of Cantebury Lord Williams.

A report submitted to the then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, by the federal min­ister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, shortly after her sentencing, said that the case against her was without foundation, and recom­mended the repeal of the blasphemy laws (News, 26 November, 2010). Mr Bhatti was assassinated in 2011 ( News, 4 March, 2011). Another politician who spoke out in defence of Mrs Bibi, Salman Taseer, was shot and killed by his bodyguard in the same year (News, 7 January, 2011).

The appeal was heard on Thursday by Justice Anwar Ul Haq and Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi. Christian lawyers, including Tahir Khalil Sindhu, provincial minister for minorities affairs and human rights, were present defending Mrs Bibi, according to a report from the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS),  an organisation working for persecuted Christians in Pakistan.

CLAAS now intends to submit a final appeal to the Supreme Court within the allotted 30 days. But this appeal process could take a number of years, it said. In 2002, the Supreme Court acquitted Ayub Masih, who had also been sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Were the sentence to be carried out, Mrs Bibi would be the first woman in Pakistan to be legally executed for blasphemy.

On Thursday, Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, said: "It is not surprising that the judges were swayed by pressure from local influential Muslims, but I had hoped that justice would prevail and that the case would be judged based on its merits.

"While the rest of the world condemns such draconian laws, Pakistan continues to persecute its minorities simply because of their religion.

"I have to now remain hopeful that the Supreme Court judges will look at the case objectively and allow the final appeal, eventually acquitting Asia."

Wilson Chowdhry, who chairs the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), said that the ruling was a "devastating blow to the humanitarian cause for Christians in Pakistan.  This news of the failure of her appeal has had a hugely demoralising affect on minorities in Pakistan, who feel the legal system has regressed despite promises of reform."

Mr Chowdhry said that Mrs Bibi's five children are living in "protected accommodation . . .  There is no escape from the hell this family have undergone, quite the opposite it seems to get worse despite all our efforts."

The association is urging people to contact their MPs, requesting that they call for a plea for a presidential pardon for Mrs Bibi.

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