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
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
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
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
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.