Lahore (AsiaNews) - After a hearing that lasted several hours, the Lahore High Court today upheld the death penalty sentence passed by a lower court against Asia Bibi, following her conviction in 2010 on blasphemy charges in 2010. Since then she has been on death row.
In Pakistan, many civil society groups have expressed solidarity towards the Christian mother of five, as well as strong concern about the court's decision, which came after five postponements.
Human rights activists and organisations around the world are also demanding justice for a woman who has become a symbol of the struggle against Pakistan's infamous "black law".
Her lawyers vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, the third and final stage in legal proceedings, hoping that the conviction will be overturned.
Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in November 2010 and since then has been in solitary confinement for security reasons, a symbol of the struggle against blasphemy.
In 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer, a Muslim, and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, were both murdered for coming to her defence.
On several occasions, Pakistani Christians organised days of fasting and prayer for her release, joined by Muslims as well.
In its ruling, the court upheld the allegations made by two Muslim women who claim to have heard Asia Bibi's blasphemy.
Speaking to AsiaNews, lawyer Naeem Shakir said, "the court heard the closing arguments and then adjourned". Shortly after, the ruling was announced upholding the "death sentence."
For Mgr Rufin Anthony, bishop of Islamabad/Rawalpindi, the court's decision is "heart breaking".
In view of the situation, he calls on Christians around the world to "join us for a day of prayer for Asia Bibi and others accused of blasphemy."
"We will have the day of prayer for the condemned on Sunday," said Fr James Asher, from the Archdiocese of Lahore. "We urge everyone to be a part of it".
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.
About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).
Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September last year) and individuals ( Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country's blasphemy laws.