Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy against Islam, has had her execution stayed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and the court may even reverse the charges against her.
Officer for the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Naveed Aziz, said in an update from the courtroom in Islamabad:
“The Supreme Court of Pakistan has stayed execution of Asia Bibi on blasphemy charges. The full bench of Supreme Court ordered in today’s hearing issued orders to stop implementation of death sentence till next order. I am pleased at this decision. It is obvious that international pressure led to this amazing decision and I thank all people who have called for her freedom. Sister Asia will have to spend more time in jail, but her freedom is now a real possibility and only a matter of time.”
Found guilty of blasphemy in November 2010, Bibi has been imprisoned for five years and is currently on death row. She continues to deny accusations that she insulted the Prophet Muhammad – charges levelled at her by former colleagues.
Human rights groups have pointed out repeatedly that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are vague enough that extremists can often misinterpret them easily. Christians in Pakistan are hoping that international pressure will allow Bibi to walk free.
Pakistan has long struggled with discrimination against religious minorities, and a report released in December last year said an “oppressive environment” was making it “increasingly difficult for many religious communities to live securely and free from danger in places where they have often spent the majority of their lives.”
The Minority Rights Group and International and Sustainable Development Policy Institute said that “violent attacks against religious minorities occur against a backdrop of legal and social discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives, including political participation, marriage and freedom of belief,” and called for increased protections for all citizens.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom in May urged the Obama Administration to designate Pakistan a “country of particular concern”.
“The government failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from sectarian and religiously-motivated violence, and Pakistani authorities have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence,” the Commission said in its annual report.
Christians throughout the world are praying that Asia Bibi will one day be as physically free as she is spiritually free.