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Asia Bibi: court due to hear appeal against Asia’s acquittal tomorrow

Asia Bibi’s acquittal will be appealed against in Pakistan’s Supreme Court tomorrow, Tuesday 29 January 2019, in an attempt by Pakistan’s hard-line anti-Christian lobby to prevent her freedom and have the death penalty imposed upon her.

Open Doors advocacy spokesman Dr Matthew Rees said: “The Supreme Court’s decision will send a powerful signal. Can Christians and other minorities’ rights be protected in Pakistan? The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are often used corruptly to allow persecution with impunity and to silence witnesses to crimes. Asia’s case and the violence surrounding it symbolises the extremes of opinion on these laws. Asia has suffered for too many years for a crime she did not commit. She has been declared innocent by the highest court in Pakistan and deserves to rebuild her life.”

A partner of Open Doors who works on the ground in Pakistan said: “Asia Bibi is a much-loved and prayed-for woman. What happens to her impacts the whole of the Christian community.”

Asia was arrested in 2009 after being accused of insulting the prophet Mohammed and sentenced to death the following year. Despite lack of evidence and contradictions in witness testimonies, court cases and appeals dragged on until finally, in 2018, Asia Bibi was acquitted by the Supreme Court.

Massive and often violent protests organised by the TLP (Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan), an Islamist political party that was founded to ‘protect’ the blasphemy laws, shut down the country, until finally the Supreme Court promised to review its earlier ruling. Infuriated militants 'called for Asia’s beheading, mutiny within the powerful military and the assassination of the country's top judges’, according to media reports.

The appeal against Asia’s acquittal was filed by Mr Gulam Mustafa Chaudhry, an advocate who has demonstrated his hostility toward Pakistan's Christian minorities. He is determined to ensure that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws remain sharp, and are a constant reminder of the direction in which organisations like TLP are driving the country. Chaudhry is known for his pro bono work on behalf of anyone wishing to bring a blasphemy case against a minority. He has been heard saying that, “Only death is a suitable for those who blaspheme against the Prophet of Islam”.

After the Supreme Court ruling, Asia was released from prison, but barred from leaving the country. She has been in hiding ever since she left her prison cell, awaiting the Supreme Court’s review.

Asia’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, who sought refuge in The Netherlands after the violence erupted in Pakistan in November, has announced his return to his country to aid Asia, a Dutch MP tweeted on Saturday. “[Saturday] I escorted Mr Mahook to his departure from airport Schiphol. He returns to Pakistan to hopefully defend Asia for the last time in a court case. Unfortunately, he will lose his asylum status in the Netherlands.”

Pakistan is number 5 on Open Doors World Watch List. Historic churches have been subject to bomb attacks. All Christians suffer from institutionalised discrimination, with occupations that are seen as low, dirty and derogatory being officially reserved for Christians, most of whom are from the poorer classes. Radical Islamic groups, courted by political parties, the army and government, run thousands of schools capable of stirring up enmity towards religious minorities.

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