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ICC Note:

Pakistan’s recent capitulation to religious extremists spells trouble for the country’s religious minorities, especially those accused of blasphemy. Among the most vulnerable following this development is Asia Bibi, a Christian woman wrongly sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy. Bibi’s blasphemy case has long been a lighting rod in Pakistan with major politicians being assassinated for coming to her defense. If the government is willing to bow to pressure of religious extremists, how long until these extremists start campaigning for the execution of Bibi? 

12/05/2017 Pakistan (Gospel Herald) – The Pakistan government’s surrender to demands of an Islamic extremist group jeopardizes the last chances for Christian mother Aasiya Noreen (Asia Bibi) to overturn her death sentence for “blasphemy,” sources said.

The government’s inability to withstand the violent protests and demands of the upstart, Muslim extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) has also further imperiled religious minorities, especially Christians, as it resulted in the state tacitly agreeing to facilitate registration of blasphemy cases and assuring that officials will show no leniency to blasphemy suspects, they said.

“The government’s succumbing to Islamists’ pressure will surely have an adverse effect on Asia Bibi’s case, as her appeal is likely to be taken up by the Supreme Court in December,” said her lead counsel in the high court, Saiful Malook, noting that the Islamist upsurge could influence judges. “It is Asia’s fundamental right to appeal her death sentence, but the naked threats made to judges from the podium at the protest sit-in at Faizabad, in full view of the state, and its subsequent surrender to their demands, does not bode well for Asia and all other people accused of blasphemy as well as their defenders.”

The protest sit-in by Barelvi Muslims led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi under the banner of TLYR started at the Faizabad Interchange, the main highway linking the garrison city of Rawalpindi with the federal capital Islamabad, on Nov 5.

The TLYR’s two main demands were the resignation of Federal Law Minister Zahid Hamid over a controversial amendment to the elections bill recently passed by the country’s National Assembly, and the execution of Noreen, waiting a Supreme Court appeal of her death sentence.

Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging in 2010 after an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water. Although international attorneys note that lower courts did not consider which of three statements attributed to her were “blasphemous” nor prove the intent to blaspheme necessary for conviction, the courts upheld her conviction.

Attorney Malook said reverberations of the “deal” signed between the government and TLYR under the army’s pressure will be felt for a long time. Malook, also the special prosecutor in the assassination case of Punjab Province Gov. Salmaan Taseer, has since been on the hit-list of Muslim extremists. A Muslim, he said the government’s capitulation to TLYR has also increased security fears for him, “but I will not withdraw from the case.”

“I took upon Asia’s appeal knowing the risks involved, but I must admit that the recent events in Pakistan have instilled some fear in me,” he said. “The government has not increased my security despite the fact that I am quite vulnerable to extremists. If anything happens to me, what effect will it have on other lawyers defending people accused of blasphemy?”

Rights activist Shakeel Naz said the state had sacrificed the religious minorities just to perpetuate its rule.

“The PML-N [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz] government has been humiliated, and the military leadership has further improved its standing with sections of the public for helping end the protests, but at what cost to the country and its people, particularly religious minorities?” Naz told Morning Star News.

A menacing precedent has been set by Islamic extremists that will embolden others to take to the streets and do anything they want with impunity, he said.

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For interviews with William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected].