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Primate condemns court’s rejection of Asia Bibi’s appeal

24 October 2014


Supporter: the late Governor of Punjab state, Salman Taseer, listens to Asia Bibi at a prison in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, in November, 2010. Mr Taseer was murdered in January of the following year

Supporter: the late Governor of Punjab state, Salman Taseer, listens to Asia Bibi at a prison in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, in November, 2010. ...

THE decision by the High Court of Appeal in Pakistan to uphold the death sentence passed on Asia Bibi, a Christian woman found guilty of blasphemy (News, 19 November 2010), is "cruel", the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Saturday. In a tweet, he said that Pakistan was "a fine country: let us see that".

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 Canterbury, Lord Williams.

On Thursday, after the sentence was upheld, the deputy director of Asia-Pacific for Amnesty International, David Griffiths, described it as "a grave injustice. . . Her mental and physical health has reportedly deteriorated badly during the years she has spent in almost total isolation on death row. She should be released immediately, and the conviction should be quashed."

A report submitted to the then President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, by the Federal Minister for Minorities 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).

On Thursday, an organisation working for persecuted Christians in Pakistan, the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), said that it planned to submit a final appeal to the Supreme Court within the allotted 30 days, but that this appeal process could take years.

"It is not surprising that the judges were swayed by pressure from local influential Muslims," the director of CLAAS-UK, Nasir Saeed, said. "But I had hoped that justice would prevail. . . While the rest of the world condemns such draconian laws, Pakistan continues to persecute its minorities simply because of their religion."

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 effect on minorities in Pakistan, who feel the legal system has regressed despite promises of reform."

Mr Chowdhry said that Mrs Bibi's five children were 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. Tomorrow, it plans to deliver a petition calling for her freedom to the Pakistani High Commission, after a two-hour demonstration.

Were the sentence to be carried out, Mrs Bibi would be the first woman in Pakistan to be legally executed for blasphemy. In 2002, the Supreme Court acquitted Ayub Masih, who had also been sentenced to death for blasphemy.


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