Lahore: Christian activists ask Supreme Court to deliver speedy justice for Asia Bibi
by Shafique Khokhar
Christian Solidarity Worldwide calls on Pakistan's highest court to guarantee her safety as well as a speedy trial to secure her release. Her conviction is evidence of the poor status of the country's justice system, plagued by bias and corruption in blasphemy cases. Michelle Chaudhry is hopeful and optimistic about an acquittal.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Christian leaders and activists from around the world have made an appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan to speed up Asia Bibi's trial after an appeal court last week upheld the death sentence  imposed on the Christian mother of five.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which is leading the charge, called on Pakistani authorities to ensure her safety because of death threats against her in prison.

This year alone, the appeal court decision was reported five times. Islamic fundamentalist groups threatened the members of the court and Asia Bibi's defence team.

Qari Saleem, the religious leader who filed a complaint against Asia Bibi, and members of Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD), the political arm of the Pakistani Islamic extremist movement Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), were in the courtroom when the ruling was announced last Wednesday.

Their goal was to see her conviction upheld by the High Court even though the charges were trumped up and baseless.

Asia Bibi was arrested on 19 June 2009 and sentenced to death by a lower court in November 2010. Since then, she has been in solitary confinement for security reasons, and has become a symbol of the struggle against the blasphemy law.

Islamic extremists killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, a Muslim, and Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, because they came to her defence.

On several occasions, Pakistan's Christian community has promoted days of fasting and prayer, with the participation of Muslims, to demand her release.

The High Court ruling determined that the testimony by two Muslim women who allegedly witnessed Asia Bibi's blasphemy was credible.

CSW's Chief Operating Officer Andy Dipper is "deeply disappointed" by the Lahore High Court's decision.

"Asia Bibi's sentence is a tragic reminder of the continued abuse of the dysfunctional blasphemy laws and the underlying weaknesses in Pakistan's justice system," he said.

"Deeply-rooted problems of prejudice, inefficiency, corruption, and under-resourcing are amplified in blasphemy cases, and even more so for religious minorities," he explained.

"The only hope she has for justice is when the case is heard in the Supreme Court. We urge Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk to consider Asia Bibi's case with the utmost urgency and to ensure her safety".

Michelle Chaudhry, president of Cecil Chaudhry & Iris Foundation (CICF), has come to Asia Bibi's defence, hopeful and optimistic that she will be vindicated at the Supreme Court.

It is hoped that the justices, who on 19 June ruled in favour of greater protections and safeguards for minorities, will keep true to those goals and give justice to Asia Bibi.

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