USCIRF Welcomes Pakistani Supreme Court’s Decision to Overturn Death Sentence Against Asia Bibi
WASHINGTON, DC — The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes the decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to overturn the death sentence handed down in 2010 against Asia Bibi, a Roman Catholic mother of five. Following a 2009 accusation of blasphemy, Bibi was convicted and handed down a death sentence—a decision upheld by the Lahore High Court. Her execution was stayed following an appeal to the Supreme Court. Partly because of their defense of Bibi, two Pakistani government officials—Shahbaz Bhatti, a cabinet member, and Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab—were murdered in 2011.
USCIRF Chair Tenzin Dorjee said, “The case of Asia Bibi illustrates the extent to which blasphemy laws can be exploited to target minority communities. These laws seek to protect entire religions rather than the individual, as should be the case under international human rights standards. It is deeply troubling that Bibi’s case even reached this level, where she almost became the first person in Pakistan’s history to be executed for the crime of blasphemy.”
In anticipation of the likelihood of an outbreak of social unrest following this decision, USCIRF urges Pakistani authorities to ensure Asia Bibi’s safety upon her release. And while USCIRF welcomes this decision, it again calls on the government of Pakistan to release the 40 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges and to repeal its blasphemy laws. Among the imprisoned is Abdul Shakoor, an 80-year-old Ahmadi bookseller for whom USCIRF is advocating through its Religious Prisoners of Conscience Project.
Every year since 2002, USCIRF has recommended that Pakistan be designated as a “country of particular concern” for “ongoing, systematic, egregious violations of religious freedom.” USCIRF has also called for the use of tools such as the denial of visas and the freezing of assets against specific individuals who have participated in or have been responsible for severe violations of religious freedom.