A global petition drive to stop the execution of a Pakistani Christian woman who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges was launched this week by a Christian persecution watchdog group.
Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) joined an existing petition drive that already collected more than 150,000 signatures from Christians in Pakistan to plead for the life and release of Asia Bibi, 45, a wife and mother of five.
If a current appeal of her case is rejected, Bibi would be the first woman to be executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Her death sentence was handed down nine months ago. She has been in prison for two years since the initial blasphamy charge.
Bibi was arrested by police on June 19, 2009, and charged with blasphemy after she engaged in a discussion about her Christian faith with co-workers. She is currently confined to a prison cell near Faisalabad, according to VOM.
Pakistan law number 295 prohibits citizens to criticize Islam, the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, or the Quran. The U.N. recently passed a resolution that protects individuals from blasphemy laws like 295; however, it is unclear whether the new resolution will have an impact on Bibi’s case.
Bibi had worked with local women on a farm that is run by Muslim landowner Muhammad Idrees, according to VOM. The Muslim women told Bibi about Islam, and, according to VOM sources, Bibi responded by telling the Muslim women about Jesus.
“Our Christ sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins...Our Christ is alive,” she said. Then, according to VOM: “Upon hearing this response, the Muslim women became angry and began to beat Asia. Then some men took her and locked her in a room. They announced from mosque loudspeakers that she would be punished by having her face blackened and being paraded through the village on a donkey.”
Local Christians told police about the incident and Asia was put into protective custody before the Muslims could carry out their plan. Police were urged not to file blasphemy charges, but later, police said they had to do so because of pressure from local Muslim leaders.
As the result of this case and surrounding pressures against blasphemy laws, major conflicts and violence have occurred. In January, the powerful governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by a member of his security team. The security officer was against Taseer’s support for Bibi and his opposition to the blasphemy laws.
In March, Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated. Bhatti was the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet and had also spoken out on behalf of Bibi.
Bibi has had health problems in recent months. Her husband visits her regularly and her daily routine includes prayers and reading the Bible, according to news reports.
VOM has named the petition drive “A Call For Mercy - Help Free Asia Bibi Now” and signatures are collected through its website: www.CallForMercy.com. The group’s goal is to collect 1 million signatures to be delivered to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.