Asia Bibi’s Lawyer Believes Presidential Pardon to be Unlikely

ICC Note: Saif-ul-Malook, the lawyer of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman on death row in Pakistan for committing blasphemy, says he does not think a presidential pardon will be possible for his client. In 2009, Bibi was accused of making derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad and was sentenced to death in 2010. Since then, Bibi’s case has become a global example of the abuse of blasphemy laws.  

03/07/2018 Pakistan (DW) – In a DW interview, Saif-ul-Malook, the lawyer of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death in 2010 for committing blasphemy, says while international support for Bibi is encouraging, he is not hopeful for clemency.

Asia Bibi has been languishing in prison for almost nine years now. The 53-year-old mother of five was arrested in June, 2009, after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. A year later, Bibi was sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law despite strong opposition from national and international human rights groups.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, were introduced by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. But activists say they are often implemented in cases that have little to do with blasphemy and are used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis — a minority Islamic sect — are often victimized as a result.

Bibi appealed against her death sentence but her last appearance before Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2016 was adjourned amid Islamist protests.

In 2016, Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih asked for presidential clemency for his imprisoned wife and wrote to President Mamnoon Hussain, seeking permission to move her to France, where the Council of Paris had unanimously adopted a proposal to award honorary citizenship to Bibi the same year.

But there has been overwhelming opposition to Bibi’s release in Pakistan, where the issue is no longer only religious but also highly political. A few months after Bibi’s conviction, Salman Taseer, a former governor of the Punjab province, was even murdered by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, because of his efforts to amend the country’s blasphemy laws and his support for Bibi.

Still, international pressure for Bibi’s release is mounting, which has put Pakistani authorities in a tough spot. Recently, Italian authorities turned Rome’s Colosseum red to honor persecuted Christians, including Asia Bibi. Pope Francis also met with Bibi’s family and offered his support to the imprisoned Pakistani woman.

According to media reports, Jan Figel, the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, told Pakistani officials that the renewal of their export privileges to Europe was linked to Bibi’s release.

Will Pakistani authorities pay heed to the demands of the international community and release Bibi? What could be the political repercussions of such a move?

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For interviews with William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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