The Lahore High Court's rejection on Thursday of Asia Bibi's appeal against her death sentence, passed by a lower court, has dismayed Christians and others in Pakistan.
Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi said Oct. 16 that the decision was “heartbreaking.” Bibi, a Christian, was convicted under Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws in 2010. She allegedly made derogatory comments against Muhammad while arguing with a Muslim woman.
She has denied the allegations, and says the case stems from an argument she had with a Muslim woman over a pot of water. During his Nov. 17, 2010 General Audience address, Benedict XVI urged that she be granted “complete freedom … as soon as possible.” Her lawyers intend to submit her case to Pakistan's Supreme Court within the allotted 30 days. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an inter-denominational organization working for persecuted Christians in Pakistan, as assisted and supported her legal defense team. According to the center, “around 25” mullahs were present at the high court “to apply pressure and push for the sentence … to be upheld.” Christian lawyers, including Tahir Khalil Sindhu, a provincial minister for minority affairs and human rights, were present to defend Bibi. “I am very disappointed with today’s result and my thoughts and prayers are with Asia’s family,” Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK commented. “It is not surprising that the judges were swayed by pressure from local influential Muslims, but I had hoped that justice would prevail and that the case would be judged based on its merits.” “While the rest of the world condemns such draconian laws, Pakistan continues to persecute its minorities simply because of their religion. I have to now remain hopeful that the Supreme Court judges will look at the case objectively and allow the final appeal, eventually acquitting Asia.” A Pakistani youth, who spoke to CNA on condition of anonymity, said, “This case is one of the bloodiest cases where also innocent lives of two politicians, Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who raised their voice against reviewing the blasphemy law were brutally murdered.” Taseer, a Muslim, and Bhatti, a Catholic, were both assassinated in 2011 for opposing the blasphemy laws under which Bibi has been sentenced. “Only God would be the judge of their wicked actions and the innocent bloodshed and their cry of the victims will not go in vain,” he said. Describing the conditions of Christians in Pakistan, he further said that “we are treated (like) third class citizens, and to settle their personal agendas and litigations the accusation of blasphemy is an easy way to settle personal revenge and grudges.” “It’s frustrating to see a vast influence of fanatic leaders who place the gun in the hands of the poor, instigate them and they die in these hateful battles while the leaders continue to remain safe and live to a ripe old age with pomp and glory.” He lamented that many groups are “paper tigers,” making statements and appeals but failing to become actively involved in the defense of Pakistan's minorities. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are said to be often used to settle scores or to persecute minorities. In 2012, a teenaged Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, who has Down syndrome, was arrested under the blasphemy laws, and released on bail.