‘Pakistan must revoke, release and repeal’, says Release International
Pakistan’s Supreme Court is to decide this Thursday (Oct 13) whether to approve the execution of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who has been convicted of blasphemy. Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, is calling on Pakistan to release her and for Christians to redouble their prayers for Asia.
‘Pakistan must revoke this death sentence, release Asia Bibi and repeal the blasphemy law, says Release International Chief Executive, Paul Robinson.
‘Time and again, we have seen these laws abused to target individuals and destroy their lives,’ says Robinson. His organisation has launched a petition to abolish the blasphemy law, which carries a mandatory death sentence.
‘These laws are used to fan the flames of violent persecution. They are invoked to devastate lives and stir up extremism. Merely to accuse a person of blasphemy can be to pass a sentence of death.
‘All too often, even when the courts confirm a person’s innocence, vigilantes take the law into their own hands and murder those who have been accused of blasphemy, often without a shred of evidence. More than 50 people have already died as a result of vigilante killings since 1990.
‘We urge Pakistan to reject extremism and violent persecution. Show mercy to Asia, set her free and guarantee her and her family’s protection. For the future peace of this great nation, Pakistan must repeal these much-abused laws.’
The Centre for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad has found since 1990 alone, ‘52 people have been extra-judicially murdered for being implicated in blasphemy charges.’
‘If Asia is released, she and her family will still be in grave danger,’ adds Paul Robinson. ‘Please redouble your prayers for Asia, her family and for the nation of Pakistan.’
Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy in 2009, after bringing water for the Muslim labourers she was working with in the field. They refused to drink, saying she had made the water unclean because she was a Christian.
Asia has been on death row since 2010. She has been attacked, abused and a price has been put on her head. A Muslim cleric has offered a substantial reward for anyone who kills her, and there has been a threat to blow her up in prison. Her family have had to go into hiding. Yet she has always maintained her innocence.
Asia Bibi has been described as Pakistan’s highest profile prisoner and her case has been described as the most notorious trial ever to be held in Pakistan. It has been reported by media around the world.
Release International has been pressing for the repeal of the Pakistan blasphemy laws since 2011. After 70 people, mainly Christians, were targeted by a suicide bomber in Lahore at Easter, Release launched a new petition, calling again for the law to be repealed. It can be signed online through the Release International website or on Change.org.
‘The future of Pakistan as a civilised nation hangs on this verdict,’ says Paul Robinson. ‘The world is watching to see whether Pakistan will reconsider and return to its roots. We encourage the nation to listen afresh to the words of its first President, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in his address to this new nation in 1947.
‘He told the citizens of Pakistan: “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in the state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”
‘Pakistan stood at a crossroads in 1947. The nation stands at a crossroads again today. The nation must return to its roots and choose the path of peace. It must go back to have a future. It will require both courage and determination.’
Politicians who oppose the blasphemy laws have paid with their lives. In 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard for calling for Asia’s release and for the repeal of the blasphemy laws. And within two months the minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was assassinated.
Since then, given the climate of intimidation, attitudes have further hardened. Others have been targeted by these laws, and once the cry of blasphemy has been raised, lives are at risk. Families have been murdered and Christians driven from their homes and even burned alive in mob violence.
‘Many innocent people have been killed – unless wisdom prevails, Asia, who has always maintained her innocence, will be next,’ says Paul Robinson.
Through its international network of missions Release serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries around the world, by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles, and working for justice. Release is a member of the UK organisations Global Connections and the Evangelical Alliance.