By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
WASHINGTON, DC (ANS – April 5, 2017 — Two leading American Senators have introduced a resolution in the US Senate urging Pakistan to release Asia Bibi, the Pakistani-Christian woman who is serving a jail term for alleged violation of the country’s draconian blasphemy laws.
According to the Hindustan Times (http://www.hindustantimes.com), Senators Rand Paul and Chris Coons on Tuesday introduced a resolution urging Pakistan to release Aasiya Noreen, commonly referred to as Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Nankana area of Punjab province who was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 and has been on death row since 2010.
However, after an international outcry, the Pakistani Supreme Court stayed her execution, and she is appealing her death sentence.
The senators also asked Pakistan to reform the laws that have led to the targeting of religious minorities.
“My heart goes out to Asia Bibi as she continues to endure her unjust imprisonment in Pakistan,” said Paul.
“It’s time for Pakistan to immediately release Asia Bibi and put a stop to the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities,” he added.
If Asia’s sentencing were to be upheld, she would have been the first woman to be executed in Pakistan as a result of blasphemy laws. This resolution highlights her case and that of other religious minorities who have been indiscriminate victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, the two senators said in a statement.
“No one, in any part of the world, should be victimized for freely and peacefully practicing his or her beliefs. I urge the government of Pakistan to release Asia Bibi and work to promote an inclusive and pluralistic society, starting with reforming its blasphemy laws,” Coons said.
The resolution urges the Pakistani government to release Asia Bibi and reform its “religiously intolerant” laws regarding blasphemy.
In Pakistan, mere accusations of blasphemy, even by private individuals, often lead to violence against those accused by private actors, the resolution alleged.
Pakistan’s human rights problems include poor prison conditions, arbitrary detention, lengthy pretrial detention, a weak criminal justice system, lack of judicial independence in the lower courts, and governmental infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, it said.
The bipartisan resolution urges Pakistan to reform its laws to reflect democratic norms and ideals and work to promote tolerance of religious minorities so that no one is in danger of persecution from the government or their neighbors for exercising their right to free speech and practicing their religion.
“Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan, which introduced the draconian laws in 1985 in a bid to appease rightwing parties. These laws have been often alleged to have been misused to settle personal scores,” said the Hindustan Times.
“Militants also target people blamed for blasphemy or those demanding changes to them.”
Two high profile Pakistani leaders have paid a high price for their support of Ms. Bibi.
Punjab’s liberal Muslim governor Salman Taseer was killed in 2011 when he termed the regulations “black law” after meeting Asia Bibi after her conviction.
Also murdered in the same year was Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and a supporter of Asia Bibi — killed by assassins as he left his Islamabad home who left leaflets signed “Taliban al-Qaida.”
Two assassins sprayed the Christian minister’s car with gunfire, striking him at least eight times, before scattering pamphlets that described him as a “Christian infidel.”
Photo captions: 1) Free Asia Bibi sign. 2) Asia Bibi with two of her daughters before her arrest. 3) Shahbaz Bhatti with Asia Bibi’s husband of two of their daughters. 4) Dan Wooding at the microphone at KWVE Radio where he records his “Front Page Radio” show.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding from Liverpool, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for some 54 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times) and the ASSIST News Service (ANS), and he hosts a weekly radio show and two television programs all based in Southern California. He is the author of some 45 books.
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