By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
STRASBOURG, FRANCE (BosNewsLife)-- Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi who faces execution by hanging on controversial charges of 'blasphemy against Islam' has been nominated for the European Union's prestigious Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought by an influential group of European legislators.
The European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), the third largest group in the European Parliament, nominated Bibi late Wednesday, September 13, for what is Europe's most prestigious human rights award, officials told BosNewsLife.
"Her case is a symbol for others hurt in their freedom of expression and especially freedom of religion," said Dutch Europarliamentarian Peter van Dalen of ECR's member faction ChristenUnion-SGP.
"It is good that my colleagues in the ECR and I continue to defend the rights of Bibi and many others," he added in a statement to BosNewsLife.
If backed by a majority of the European Parliament in next month's vote, Bibi could receive the 50,000 euro ($59,500) award, named after Soviet-era dissident and scientist Andrei Sakharov, on December 10 in Strasbourg, France.
The announcement came amid mounting international concern about the plight of Bibi, a married Christian mother of five.
Bibi, 48, has been in prison since 2009 after she reportedly told Muslim co-workers that Jesus Christ is alive. She made the remarks while working in the fields for a Muslim landowner, according to investigators.
"Our Christ sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins…Our Christ is alive," she reportedly said. Bibi spoke amid a dispute with non-Christian colleagues when she attempted to drink water from a well owned by a Muslim, Christians said.
Besides "insulting Prophet Muhammad" she was accused "of contaminating" the well by Muslims. She was charged with blasphemy and a lower court eventually sentenced her to death by hanging in 2010. After years of delays, the verdict was confirmed in October 2014.
Bibi appealed, and nearly two years later she was to appear in front of Pakistan's Supreme Court.
But the appeal was adjourned, as angry Muslims packed the court room to demand her execution. No new court date is known.
"Asia Bibi can not show her faith in the way she wants and is facing the death sentence for unclear reasons," complained Van Dalen. "That should not happen."
She would be the first woman in Pakistan to be executed by the State for blasphemy.
However, at least 65 people, including Christians, have reportedly been murdered in Pakistan after being accused of blasphemy since 1990.