The UK branch of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) has written directly to the Pakistani President, the Pakistani High Commissioner in London, and the British Prime Minister, as they continue to press for “justice and greater security for Asia Bibi.”
Asia, 45, 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,” a spokesperson for the group told the ASSIST News Service.
“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.”
The spokesperson went on to say that 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 MP, Joel Cassin, a member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’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 December 9 of 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 European Union [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.”
Note: The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) is an interdenominational organization working for Christians who are being persecuted because of their faith in Pakistan. Pakistan is an Islamic country where Christians are religious minority and face religious, social, constitutional, economic and educational discrimination.
“Christians are living throughout the country in constant fear and as second-class citizens. Religious persecution and sectarian violence is on the increase, and Christians are the main target. The country’s draconian blasphemy law (which carry a mandatory death penalty) and other discriminatory laws are being used to intimidate, harass and persecute Christians,” said their UK website (www.claas.org.uk).
“CLAAS works for religious freedom, to stop persecution of Christians in Pakistan because of blasphemy and other discriminatory laws, raise awareness, disseminate information and highlight the plight of Christians on an international level. CLAAS also raises its voice to promote and protect human rights through advocacy and campaigns.
“CLAAS provides free legal aid to victims of religious intolerance in Pakistan, well as shelter and financial support for the victims and their families.”