The potential release of Christian mother of five Asia Bibi, who recently saw her death sentence in Pakistan temporarily suspended, could be a "watershed moment" for all Christians falsely accused of blasphemy, a watchdog group has said.
"This could be a watershed moment as never before has a Christian blasphemy law victim had to appeal to the Supreme High Court, the majority are released at High Court. However the legal precedent that may be created as a consequence of a successful appeal could provide protection to future Christian victims faced with cases championed by aggressive, hatred fueled Islamic imams, while actual false eyewitnesses fail to appear during any stage of the court process," Wilson Chowdhry, president of the British Pakistani Christian Association, told The Christian Post on Monday.
"Moreover, a precedent could also limit the type of allegation that will be accepted by courts as a potential blasphemy. For instance, Asia Bibi's appeal focuses on the question she asked 'My Christ died for me, what did Muhammed do for you?' Despite 500 clerics in Pakistan believing the contents of the sentence was blasphemous, the majority of liberal imams outside of Pakistan believe the question exhibits little that could be construed as a blasphemy," Chowdhry added.
Bibi has spent six years in prison for that question, which she apparently asked of a group of Muslim women who were insulted that she drank from the same water supply as them.
After heavy international pressure on Pakistan, the Supreme Court temporarily suspended her death sentence last week, when an appeals case against her conviction began.
Chowdhry, whose group has been appealing for Bibi's freedom and has started a global petition for her cause, told CP that the case is set to be one of the most scrutinized legal procedures in Pakistan.
"The important issue that should be broached is how will the nation of Pakistan react to the potential release of Asia Bibi," he continued.
"A strong security team is required to protect Asia and her family as evidential animosity toward the family is immense. The family will no doubt flee Pakistan, most likely escaping to France where they have already been given honorary citizenship."
Bibi's family has been threatened by extremists, with clerics offering a bounty for her death if she is freed, as reported by Mail Online earlier in July. Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan are often targeted not only by the government's blasphemy laws, but also by Islamic mobs who seek to take justice into their own hands.
The BPCA president said what will happen to all those who have falsely accused and threatened Bibi will also be very important.
"Will they be sentenced for perjury? Will the imam be stripped of his title and position and made to face his own court trial? Will any of those that ever attacked Asia physically or verbally be punished for their crimes? In a country where money rules and injustice is ubiquitous, I very much doubt justice will prevail in this situation," Chowdhry said.
"We can but hope that some focus on such matters will materialise, as the current impunity for crimes of this nature has to be addressed, and what impression counter arrests would make."
Bibi is also suffering from health problems while in prison, among all her other concerns, and is having trouble walking, her family has said.
Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, has said reports that she is on her death bed have been exaggerated, however, and revealed that she has since been treated by doctors.
Masih noted that his wife "smiles every time I visit her, she's so strong. Whenever we meet she asks for updates in the case. She asks me about the lawyer. She is so frustrated. But she has strong belief that she will be released."
The Christian mother's family has also been appealing for donations so they can visit her more frequently. Currently they are only allowed to see her once every 15 days, and have been denied by Pakistani authorities a request to see her moved closer to the family in Lahore.
Chowdhry noted that the legal fees for the court case have also risen as they have entered the next stage of the Supreme Court appeal, and is hoping the international community can help the struggling family.
BPCA's petition, which is hoping to garner 100,000 signatures, can be signed here.