EU to Link Preferential Trade Status With Release of Asia Bibi in Pakistan

ICC Note:

On a recent trip to Pakistan, the European Union’s special envoy for religious freedom, Jan Figel, indicated that Pakistan preferential trade status with the EU would be directly linked with the result of the blasphemy case against Asia Bibi. Bibi, a Christian woman on death row in Pakistan for allegedly committing blasphemy, has been in prison for almost a decade. Found guilty at trial level of committing blasphemy against Islam, Bibi has become likely the most famous blasphemy case in the entire world. Will linking Pakistan’s preferential trade status with the EU and Bibi’s case help finally get her released?

01/31/2018 Pakistan (Daily Times) – Jan Figel, the special envoy of European Union (EU) for the promotion of religious freedom around the world, in his recent visit to Pakistan candidly communicated to the Pakistani government that the future continuity of GPS plus status of Pakistan will be directly linked to the positive outcome of Asia Bibi’s blasphemy case. In 2013, the EU awarded the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) plus status to Pakistan, allowing duty-free access to the EU markets. With this appealing international export facility, the country was allowed 20 percent exports to EU markets at zero tariffs and another 70 percent at preferential rates.

Since the grant of the GSP plus status, the EU countries have become the leading destination of Pakistani exports with the remarkable increase of 53.6 percent bearing a value of 6.173 billion during the year 2016. The cessation of GSP plus status will cause a severe blow to the sinking economy of the country and will not be able to compete with local competitors like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The EU communicator stressed the need to resolve Asia Bibi case because Italy, one of the EU strategic partners, is pushing hard to parallel the renewal of GSP plus status with the release of Asia Bibi, an internationally known Christian victim of false blasphemy charges languishing in the Pakistani prison for the last eight years.

In her early session court hearings, she denied blasphemy accusations. But the court was pressurized by local as well as national religious forces; as a result, Muhammad Naveed Iqbal, session judge of Sheikhupura Courts, announced capital punishment for Asia Bibi.  Later, she lost her appeal in the Lahore High Court in 2014 which not only left her in despair but additionally High Court’s stay order against presidential pardon made her acquittal chances very slim. Her further appeal is pending in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

In 2016, there was a ray of hope for Asia Bibi and her millions of well-wishers in Pakistan and around the world but exactly on the hearing date at the Apex Court, Justice Hameed-ur-Rehman, one of the judges of Asia Bibi tribunal recused from the case by saying, he was a member of Mumtaz Qadri’s court bench and that Asia Bibi’s case was directly related to his case. Therefore, he was unable to sit with other judges to decide Asia’s case. This was a severe jolt to the entire courtroom, national and international media and members of International officials of Western embassies.

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