Center for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement (CLAAS), a human rights watchdog for the persecuted Christians in Pakistan, has written directly to the Pakistani President, the Pakistani High Commissioner in London, and the British Prime Minister as we continue to press for justice and greater security for Asia Bibi.
Asia, a mother of five, was sentenced to death for blasphemy last November and remains in prison while the Lahore High Court considers her case.
Although we have yet to receive a response from President Asif Ali Zardari we have received replies from Pakistani High Commissioner Wajid Shamsul Hasan and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on behalf of David Cameron.
In his letter, Mr Hasan noted that although the President had been advised to grant clemency, he is unable to do so whilst her petition is before the Lahore High Court.
In the event that the court decides against her, Mr Hasan confirmed that Asia would be able to file a second appeal with the Supreme Court of Pakistan and appeal to the President again for clemency if her sentence is upheld by the Supreme Court.
“So far the President has not rejected any mercy petition in cases of blasphemy,” he wrote. “Let me assure you that Ms Asia Bibi will have justice and shall not be punished on false charges.”
Writing on behalf of Alistair Burt, Joel Cassin, member of the FCO’s Pakistan Team, said he shared CLAAS’s concerns over Asia Bibi’s sentence. He said the British High Commission in Islamabad had raised her case with the Punjab Government and that it would continue to do so “at a senior level”.
He said that the FCO’s Minister for South Asia Alistair Burt had spoken “regularly” to Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shabhaz Bhatti, about the importance of reforming the blasphemy laws to prevent their misuse and that he had raised Asia Bibi’s case in particular with Mr Bhatti during a meeting on 9 December last year.
According to Mr Cassin, Mr Burt plans to “remain engaged on this subject”.
Mr Cassin added that “specific representations” were being made to the Government of Pakistan by the head of the EU delegation “with UK support”.
He wrote: “I share your concerns over Mrs Bibi’s case. The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.
“In Pakistan, we regularly raise our support for the abolition of the death penalty and work with civil society to encourage reform.
“Furthermore the UK is concerned about the potential of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to be used to persecute religious minorities.”