Thursday, 17 November 2011

Waiting To Die In The Islamic Republic Of Pakistan

Crossrythms
Release International calls for Christian woman facing death sentence in Pakistan to be set free and for blasphemy laws to be repealed

It's a year since illiterate farm labourer Asia Bibi became the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death under the country's notorious blasphemy laws. Since then, Asia has been confined to a tiny cell near Lahore, not knowing what will claim her life - the noose, or the militants who have threatened to kill her.

One cleric has offered a reward of 500,000 rupees - about £4,000 - for the person who puts her to death. Extremists have threatened to blow her up in prison, and her husband and children have been forced to go into hiding. Asia is in her mid-40s.

'Pakistan must set Asia Bibi free and protect her life from vigilantes,' says Andy Dipper, the CEO of Release International, a ministry to the persecuted church. 'And Pakistan must repeal this terrible law that has been used like a weapon to target Christians and other innocent people.'

Asia Bibi is a victim of Pakistan's blasphemy code, which was revived to implement sharia law in the Islamic republic. The accusation of blasphemy alone has been used to settle scores and to take out commercial rivals, imprisoning them or making them prey to vigilantes.

Politicians who oppose the laws have been murdered. The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was killed in January by his own bodyguard for calling for Asia's release and for the repeal of the blasphemy laws. And within two months the minister of religious minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was assassinated for the same reason.

Asia Bibi found herself accused of blasphemy after a dispute with her Muslim co-workers. Some of the women had been putting her under pressure to renounce her Christian faith and accept Islam. Asia responded by sharing her faith in Christ.

Asia was then beaten and threatened by a mob before being taken into protective custody. On June 14 2009 she was accused of uttering blasphemies against the prophet Mohammed - a charge Asia has always denied - and in November 2010 she was sentenced to death.

She has appealed against execution. If the High Court upholds the death sentence Asia Bibi will be the first woman in Pakistan to be legally killed for blasphemy.

'In previous cases, the death sentence has not been carried out,' said Andy Dipper of Release International, 'but this could well mean a life sentence for Asia in appalling conditions.' She is currently held in isolation in a secure cell.

Release International has called for an end to the blasphemy laws and this year presented a 51,000-name petition to the Pakistan High Commissioner in London calling for religious freedom. Mr Wajid Shamsul Hasan said, 'We share your concerns, and we will do our utmost in the best possible way to provide security for the minorities and to alleviate their sufferings.'

'Please pray for Asia Bibi,' said Andy Dipper. 'Pray that God will comfort and strengthen her. And pray that Pakistan will put an end to these deeply unjust blasphemy laws that have been used to target Christians and others in acts of revenge.'

Release partners VOM-USA have created an online petition to free Asia Bibi. Since its launch in August, it has been signed by more than 300,000 people. It can be signed online at www.CallForMercy.com

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