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