2014-10-17 16:12:00

Pakistani, Indian bishops condemn Asia Bibi death sentence

As a Pakistani court upheld on Thursday the death sentence of a Christian woman for a 2010 ‎conviction for blasphemy, Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad/Rawalpindi appealed to the world for ‎prayers for the woman, calling the court's decision "heart breaking".‎  Asia Bibi, a 50-year-old mother ‎of ‎five, 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, her ‎lawyer Sardar ‎Mushtaq said.  “We have the right to appeal in 30 days, and we ‎will continue this legal battle ‎by ‎approaching the Supreme Court of Pakistan,'' Mustaq told Associated ‎Press.  Bishop ‎Anthony has appealed to Christians around the world to join them for “a ‎day of ‎prayer for Asia ‎Bibi ‎and others accused of blasphemy."‎ Meanwhile Lahore Archdiocese has set aside this Sunday as a day of prayer for Asia Bibi, urging everyone  to be ‎a ‎part of it.‎  ‎

Meanwhile in neighbouring India, Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune described the death sentence ‎on ‎Asia Bibi as an affront to the dignity of us all.  Speaking to AsiaNews, he said the upholding of ‎the ‎death sentence of Asia Bibi on Thursday by Lahore court is against all norms of both human ‎and ‎international laws, against ‎human ‎dignity and human rights. Bishop Dagre hoped international authorities and bodies would pressure ‎the ‎Pakistan government into withdrawing this punishment as well as these draconian Blasphemy laws, which , ‎he ‎said, betrays a mindset that are against present day affirmation of human rights.‎

Asia 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. Mushtaq said Bibi was arrested after Muslim women told a cleric in a village ‎in the ‎eastern Punjab ‎province that she had made ``derogatory remarks'' about the prophet. He said the ‎trouble ‎began when ‎the women objected to Bibi using their drinking glass because she was not a ‎Muslim, ‎setting off a ‎heated verbal exchange.  Mushtaq said they have a strong case and will try their ‎best to save her life.‎

International and local human rights groups have called for amending blasphemy laws ‎introduced ‎by ‎the military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s.  In a statement Thursday, ‎Amnesty ‎International ‎called for Bibi's release.  ``This is a grave injustice,'' said David Griffiths, ‎Amnesty's ‎Deputy Asia ‎Pacific Director. He said 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,'' he said.   ‎Under Pakistani blasphemy laws, insulting the Quran or the Prophet ‎Muhammad ‎can be punished with ‎life imprisonment or death. Experts say the laws often are exploited ‎for personal ‎gain.  Pakistan ‎imposed a moratorium on executions in 2008 and has never executed ‎anyone convicted ‎of blasphemy. ‎Instead, such cases usually linger on appeal.‎  (Source: AP/AsiaNews)

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