Release International calls for Asia Bibi's acquittal and petitions for the repeal of the notorious blasphemy laws, which stir up persecution.

Release International
Release International

As Pakistan's Supreme Court prepares to hear the final appeal to save the life of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, Release International is pressing for Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws to be repealed.

Asia Bibi has been described as Pakistan's highest profile prisoner. She's been on death row since 2009 accused of blasphemy. Pakistan's Supreme Court is to hear her final appeal in October.

The farm labourer became the first woman in the country to be sentenced to death for blasphemy after a row with other labourers. Her Muslim co-workers refused to drink water she had brought for them because as a Christian they considered her to be unclean.

Since then, a price has been put on her head and her family have been forced into hiding.

Release is urging that Asia be acquitted, set free and protected - and is pressing for Pakistan's widely abused blasphemy laws to be repealed.

Release has launched a petition calling on the Prime Minister of Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws, which are often invoked to take revenge, incite violent attacks and eliminate rivals. It's the latest step in a campaign that stretches back many years.

Release chief executive Paul Robinson says, 'We call on the government of Pakistan to abolish the blasphemy laws and seek to create a society where every Pakistani citizen is free to exercise their faith and live in peace with their neighbours.'

The petition can be signed online via the Release International website.

Asia's is the most prominent blasphemy case in Pakistan. But many others have been targeted by these laws, and once the cry of blasphemy has been raised, lives are at risk. Families have been murdered and Christians driven from their homes, and even when the courts have dismissed the charges, Christians have been shot by vigilantes.

'Pakistan must set Asia Bibi free and guarantee her family's safety,' says Paul Robinson. 'It must review every blasphemy case and repeal these notorious laws which target Christians and other minorities and are often invoked to whip up violent persecution.'

Militants have threatened to blow up Asia in prison, and a cleric has offered a reward of 500,000 rupees - about 4,000 - for the assassin who puts her to death.

Politicians who oppose the blasphemy laws have paid with their lives. In 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard for calling for Asia's release and for the repeal of the blasphemy laws. And within two months the minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was assassinated.

On June 14 2009 Asia was accused of uttering blasphemies against the prophet Mohammed - a charge she has always denied. In November she was sentenced to death. Should the Supreme Court uphold that sentence Asia Bibi would become the first woman in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy.

'That would be the darkest day for justice in the history of Pakistan,' says Paul Robinson. 'For justice to be upheld, Asia must be set free and these laws must be repealed.' CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.