By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BRUSSELS/LAHORE (BosNewsLife)-- Two leading Christian legislators in the European Parliament (EP) have urged the European Union and Pope Francis to help free a Christian mother, whose death sentence for "blasphemy" was upheld by a Pakistani court.
Asia Bibi, 50, had appealed before the Lahore High Court against the ruling in which she was found guilty of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, but the court rejected her appeal Thursday, October 19.
Parliamentarians Peter van Dalen and Bas Belder of the EP's Christian oriented 'ChristenUnie-SGP' faction told BosNewsLife that they would ask the EP's president, the EU's foreign policy chief, the European Commission president and the pope "to do more to free Asia Bibi."
They plan to make their appeal in writing and in Parliament.
"I am saddened and condemn this cowardly decision by Pakistani judges," Van Dalen said. "It's terrible that they did not find courage to acquit this young wife and mother of five children. Asia Bibi is innocent. She is already spending five years on death row, and must be freed now."
Belder said Pakistani judges "bowed to pressure from the Islamists as they fear for their own life." It shows, he added, "that Pakistani blasphemy laws have become a deadly trap for innocent people."
Bibi's lawyer, Sardar Mushtaq, told reporters he would continue his legal battle for the married mother of five.
“We have the right to appeal in 30 days, and we will continue this legal battle by approaching the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” Mushtaq said. “We have a strong case, and we will try our best to save her life.”
Bibi’s case drew global criticism in 2011 when Pakistan’s minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and eastern Punjab governor Salman Taseer were killed for supporting her and opposing blasphemy laws. Taseer was killed in the capital Islamabad by one of his police guards after visiting Bibi in jail.
Bhatti was killed months later by the Pakistani Taliban group, who called him an “infidel Christian.”
Under Pakistani blasphemy laws, insulting the Koran or Prophet Muhammad can be punished with life imprisonment or death. Activists say the legislation is often misused to settle personal disputes.
Pakistan imposed a moratorium on executions in 2008 and has never executed anyone convicted of blasphemy, thoughseveral Christians and others accused of the crime are known to have been killed or threatened by Muslim hardliners or security forces while awaiting trial.
Human rights groups and churches organizations have urged Pakistan to amend blasphemy laws introduced by the military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s. The Amnesty International advocacy group also called for Bibi’s release. "This is a grave injustice," stressed David Griffiths, Amnesty’s deputy Asia Pacific director, adding that there were serious concerns about the fairness of the trial.
"Her mental and physical health has reportedly deteriorated badly during the years she has spent in almost total isolation on death row. She should be released immediately and the conviction should be quashed," Griffith said in a statement.
Pakistani bishops have expressed shock about the death sentence. Bishop Rufin Anthony of the Islamabad/Rawalpindi area said he wanted to appeal to the world "for prayers for the woman" as the court's decision was "heart breaking".
DAY OF PRAYER
He said it was time for “a day of prayer for Asia Bibi and others accused of blasphemy." The Lahore Archdiocese already announced it set aside Sunday, October 19, to pray for Asia Bibi and added it was "urging everyone to be a part of it".
In neighbouring India, Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune called the death sentence on Bibi "an affront to the dignity of us all."
He said the upholding of the execution by hanging "is against all norms of both human and international laws, against human dignity and human rights."
In a statement Bishop Dagre said he hopes international authorities and bodies would pressure the Pakistan government to withdraw "this punishment as well as these draconian blasphemy laws" which he claimed "betray a mindset that are against present day affirmation of human rights."
Bibi was detained in 2009 after she reportedly told Muslim co-workers that Jesus Christ is alive after He "sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins." She reportedly made the remarks while working in the fields for a Muslim landowner. Besides "insulting Prophet Muhammad" she was accused "of contaminating" the well by Muslims. Bibi has denied wrongdoing.
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(BosNewsLife (2004-2014) is the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians. It has been 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since May 2004).
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