Pakistani Christian women facing blasphemy death sentence to appeal
Asia Bibi, the Christian woman whose death sentence for blasphemy was upheld by a court in Pakistan last week, will appeal to the Supreme Court, her lawyer has said.
Asia, a married mother of five, was condemned by a group of Muslim women for drinking their water in 2009 because, as a Christian, they considered her to be ‘unclean’. They claimed that she had made derogatory comments about the prophet Mohamed. As a result she was arrested and tried for blasphemy. Her family also experienced brutal violence.
Asia was told that the only way to escape the death penalty was to convert to Islam. However she refused saying, "I, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death because I was thirsty. I'm a prisoner because I used the same cup as those Muslim women."
Widespread international outrage over the case continued last week as the High Court in Lahore upheld her sentence to hang, despite apparent flaws in the prosecution's case. Observers have noted inconsistent and contradictory witness statements from her accusers, two of whom have not appeared in court.
Human Rights organisations worldwide have joined Christian groups in condemning the court's decision. Kate Allen, UK Director of Amnesty International, commented, "This is the latest blasphemy outrage to come out of Pakistan. It seems obvious that it is a case of religious persecution..." adding, "Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan are often used to settle petty vendettas and persecute minority groups. It's a complete disgrace that the courts are complicit in these vendettas."
Hundreds of thousands have signed petitions calling for Asia’s release. Christian groups in Pakistan and elsewhere have vowed to pray and campaign for Ms Bibi's release. Pope Benedict XVI has publicly called for clemency for Ms Bibi and respect for the "human dignity and fundamental rights of everyone in similar situations."
The case has already proved controversial – and deadly – within Pakistan. Two politicians who supported Asia have been assassinated whilst the judge who convicted the killer of one of the men had to flee the country after the case. The assassin had been showered with rose petals by lawyers when he arrived in court.
Asia is the first woman in Pakistan's history to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. However, 2014 has seen a record number of blasphemy cases and escalating violence against those accused of blasphemy and those associated with them.