An evangelical professor launched a petition calling on the Pakistani government to change blasphemy laws and release Asia Bibi, the first woman sentenced to death under the laws.
Warren Throckmorton, a professor at the Christian institution Grove City College and a psychology and public policy fellow of its Center for Vision and Values, started the petition on Wednesday through Change.org, calling for the jailed 45-year-old mother to be released.
“Asia Bibi’s case requires an international outcry from people of all religious views. The bullying and murder of minority religious adherents in Pakistan must stop,” the petition reads.
Bibi, a Christian wife and mother, was convicted by a district court last month of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. The punishment is mandatory death. She is the first female in Pakistan to be sentenced to hang for blasphemy.
Bibi’s story of persecution has led many to call for an end to the blasphemy law.
The law dates back to the 1980s. Penalties for sins against the sacred such as blasphemy were enacted under the dictatorship of General Zia Al Haq. There is also another law which states that defiling the Quran merits imprisonment for life. Critics say the rules were meant as a means to prop his reign using Islam.
Throckmorton calls the laws “archaic” and says they’re now used as a means of control.
“These are methods or means of control that the devout or non-devout can use against their enemies,” he asserted.
In Pakistan, members of the Association of Sindh Physicians held a press conference to highlight another case in which blasphemy laws were being abused. They told the story of Ismaili doctor Naushad Ahmed Valiyani. Pharmaceuticals salesman Muhammad Faizan falsely accused Vaiyani of blasphemy and reported him to the police after Vailyani threw the man’s business card in the trash.
According to the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a human rights organization of the Catholic Church in Pakistan, accusations of blasphemy are on the rise. More than 110 people were accused of bad-mouthing the Prophet Mohammad last year, statistics showed.
In Bibi’s case, she was accused of defaming the Islamic prophet after a squabble with co-workers. According to several reports, she began defending her faith after the Muslim women she was working with refused to accept water from Bibi, saying that she was “unclean.” The women tried unsuccessfully to forcefully convert her to Islam. Bibi was later beaten, arrested and has been held in isolation where she recently learned of her death sentence.
There has been much backlash over the laws since Bibi’s sentence was announced. The U.S. Department of State mentioned the laws in its 2010 Annual report on International Religious Freedom.
Under global pressure, Paskistani President Asif Ali Zardari is reportedly considering revisions to the country’s blasphemy laws. Catholic foreign news service AsiaNews reported that Pitambar Sewani, a member of the Sindh Assembly, announced at a press conference that Zardari confided in him that revisions should be made, if necessary. The press conference was organized by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Throckmorton hopes that media coverage of Bibi’s case will put political pressure on Pakistani officials. His petition is currently being sent to Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, and its Minister of Human Rights, Syed Mumtaz Alam Gillani, among others.
So far the online petition, launched early Wednesday morning, has gained nearly 300 signatures. Throckmorton is “very pleased” and is encouraging others to sign.
“Every little bit helps,” he urged.
Notably, another petition was launched on Change.org to save Bibi’s life.