10/16/2014 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the conviction and death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five convicted under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, has been upheld by the Lahore High Court. Many human rights and religious freedom organizations, who consider Mrs. Bibi’s case a symbol of the persecution faced by Christians in Pakistan and how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often abused, are disappointed by the court’s decision.
Mrs. Bibi has been on death row awaiting appeal since her conviction and death sentence were announced by the Session’s Court in District Nankana, Pujab, in October 2010. Her appeal hearing, originally scheduled to take place on March 17, 2014, was delayed and rescheduled seven times, but was finally held today, October 16.
After four hours of hearing the arguments from lawyers on both sides of the appeal, Justice Anwar-ul-Haq, one member of a two-judge bench hearing the appeal, passed a short order confirming Mrs. Bibi’s death sentence. “A two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal of Asia Bibi but we will file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Mrs. Bibi’s lawyer, Shakir Chaudhry, told AFP. Mrs. Bibi and her lawyers now have 30 days to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Over a dozen Islamic clerics, including Qari Saleem who brought forward the initial complaint against Mrs. Bibi, were present in the court. “We will soon distribute sweets among our Muslim brothers for today’s verdict, it’s a victory [for] Islam,” Saleem told AFP after the court announced its decision.
The blasphemy accusation against Mrs. Bibi originates from a dispute that took place in June 2009 between Mrs. Bibi and a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries in Sheikhupura. The Muslim women became angry with Mrs. Bibi when she, a Christian whom they considered unclean, drank water from the same water bowl as the Muslims. An argument between Mrs. Bibi and the Muslim women ensued and later the Muslim women reported to a local cleric that Mrs. Bibi had blasphemed against Islam.
Now that Mrs. Bibi’s death sentence and conviction have been confirmed by the Lahore High Court, the case can only be appealed to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is more insulated from the growing religious extremism that often holds heavy influence Pakistan’s trail courts causing many to hope the Supreme Court will be adjudicate Mrs. Bibi’s case on the merits of the case. If the death sentence and conviction is confirmed by the Supreme Court, which many Christian and human rights organizations see as unlikely, Mrs. Bibi will be the first woman in Pakistan to be lawfully executed for violating Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said, “The case against Asia Bibi is a great example of how Christians and other religious minorities are abused in Pakistan by fundamentalists wielding the controversial blasphemy laws. The blasphemy laws were originally written to protect against religious intolerance in Pakistan, but the law has warped into a tool used by extremists and others to settle personal scores and persecute Pakistan’s vulnerable religious minorities. Sadly, the vast majority of blasphemy accusations brought against Christians and others are false. Unfortunately, pressure from Islamic radical groups and general discrimination against Christians in Pakistan has transformed trial courts and now appeals courts into little more than rubber stamps for blasphemy accusations brought against Christians, regardless of the evidence brought to bear in the case.”