Asia Bibi appeal adjourned — her death row ordeal drags on

Release International urges Pakistan to take a stand against intimidation and release Asia Bibi, following the Supreme Court appeal setback.

Oct 20, 2016

LONDON: Release International urges Pakistan to take a stand against intimidation and release Asia Bibi, following the Supreme Court appeal setback. Release calls for courage to confront intolerance and repeal the blasphemy law. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has adjourned Asia Bibi’s appeal against her death sentence, following the decision of a leading judge to withdraw from the trial.

Justice Muhammad Iqbal Hameed Ur Rehman stepped back from the case on the grounds that he had been a judge in the case of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer who was murdered for taking a stand against the blasphemy laws.

“It seems strange to pull out on the day of the appeal,” says Paul Robinson, Chief Executive of Release International. “Surely any potential conflict would have been known in advance? What is clear is that it will take immense courage to withstand intimidation and release Asia Bibi — a fact underlined by the presence of so many riot police at the court.”

On Oct 12, 150 Muslim clerics issued a fatwa warning the government not to release Asia, and threatening to kill anyone who helped any person accused of blasphemy. And when Salman Taseer was murdered by his own police bodyguard for defending Asia Bibi, thousands came out on the streets to hail his killer as a hero.

Since 1987, upwards of 1,300 people have been charged with blasphemy. The number of accusations has soared, from just one in 2011, to more than 100 in 2014. A disproportionate number of those accused are Christians.

More than 60 people have been murdered following blasphemy allegations since 1990. Most were killed in the past five years. At least 16 others, besides Asia, are on death row.

“The blasphemy laws are being used to fuel the flames of intolerance. That’s why they must be repealed,” says Paul Robinson.

Release International has been pressing for their repeal since 2011. Release launched a new petition after a suicide bomber targeted Christian families in Lahore at Easter. The Release petition can be signed online through the Release International website or on

Meanwhile, Asia Bibi remains on death row, where she has been for the past six years, convicted of a charge she has always denied. “Release has been in contact with Asia’s family and her faith remains strong. Pray for her,” says Paul Robinson.

Asia has been attacked and abused and a bounty of almost £400,000 has been put on her head. Her family have had to go into hiding. Today, they are at even greater risk, along with anyone associated with her case. A lawyer, a judge and two leading politicians have been assassinated for taking a stand against the blasphemy laws.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law was created in 1860 by the British rulers of India to try to keep the peace between different religious groups. Pakistan inherited the law after its creation in 1947. Use of the law was revived in the 1980s by the sixth president of Pakistan, Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, to fulfil his agenda of creating a state ruled by Syariah (Islamic law).

"To draw a line under this violent persecution will demand courage - not least of all from the judges in the Supreme Court,' says Paul Robinson. 'It will take courage to do the right thing and draw a line through the law that underpins this hatred. The blasphemy law must be struck off the statute books. It must be repealed."

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