Activists voiced new fears for a Pakistani woman on death row for blasphemy Friday, as religious groups launched fresh calls for her hanging after this week’s execution of a killer feted by Islamists.
Asia Noreen Bibi, Christian mother of five has now spent 6 years in jail as she faces capital punishment after an absurd blasphemy conviction. Subsequently, two eminent Pakistani politicians who questioned her sentence were murdered: the then Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, who was assassinated by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was shot dead by Tehrik-e-Taliban.
Mumtaz Qadri was executed by the state for Taseer’s murder. Qadri’s actions saw him feted as a hero by Islamists, and his funeral Tuesday brought up to 100,000 people into the streets of Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, many chanting for Bibi to be hanged.
Bibi’s lawyer Saif ul Mulook said Friday religious groups have launched a “fresh offensive” against his client in the wake of the execution of Mumtaz Qadri.
On Thursday a statement issued from Islamabad’s Red Mosque called on the government to execute “the blasphemer Asia Bibi as soon as possible and not bow to international pressure”.
Christian activist Shamoon Gill, a long-time advocate for Bibi, said Friday that Islamist groups are “putting her life in danger”, citing police who warned him to be vigilant this week.
Even if authorities do not succumb to the pressure, religious groups could incite any of Qadri’s thousands of supporters to vigilante action, he warned.
Prison officials put Bibi in isolation in October over fears of attacks by vigilantes after the Supreme Court upheld Qadri’s death sentence.
In June 2009, Noreen was involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries after the other women grew angry with her for drinking the same water as them.
She was subsequently accused of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies, and was arrested and imprisoned.
In November 2010, a Sheikhupura judge sentenced her to death. If executed, Noreen would be the first woman in Pakistan to be lawfully killed for blasphemy.
On October 16, 2014 the Lahore High Court dismissed Noreen’s appeal and upheld her death sentence. On November 20, 2014, her husband appealed to Pakistan’s President for clemency. On November 24, 2014, her lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court.
On July 22, 2015 the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended Bibi’s death sentence for the duration of the appeals process. In November of 2015, Bibi’s lead attorney, Naeem Shakir, announced that, after two postponements in 2015, the Lahore High Court would hear an appeal in Bibi’s case on March 26, 2016.