The death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and mother of five children, was upheld by the Lahore High Court in Pakistan on Thursday. Bibi has been convicted of blasphemy for drinking from the same bowl of water as Muslims and making derogatory comments about the prophet Muhammad.
"The case against Asia Bibi is a great example of how Christians and other religious minorities are abused in Pakistan by fundamentalists wielding the controversial blasphemy laws. The blasphemy laws were originally written to protect against religious intolerance in Pakistan, but the law has warped into a tool used by extremists and others to settle personal scores and persecute Pakistan's vulnerable religious minorities," said International Christian Concern's Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark.
"Sadly, the vast majority of blasphemy accusations brought against Christians and others are false. Unfortunately, pressure from Islamic radical groups and general discrimination against Christians in Pakistan has transformed trial courts and now appeals courts into little more than rubber stamps for blasphemy accusations brought against Christians, regardless of the evidence brought to bear in the case."
Bibi was sentenced in 2010 following an incident in 2009 where she was harvesting berries with a group of Muslim women in Sheikhupura. The Muslim women accused her of drinking from the same water bowl as them, which was considered unclean as she is a Christian. Following an argument, the women went to a local cleric and told him that Bibi had blasphemed against Islam.
BBC News noted that the sentencing sparked global condemnation from several human rights groups, who criticized Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws. ICC and other critics of these laws say that they are often used to settle personal scores and unfairly target minorities, especially Christians.
Bibi's appeal hearing was initially scheduled to take place on March 17, but was delayed and rescheduled, before finally taking place on Thursday. The Christian mother's lawyers have said that they will take the case to the country's Supreme Court.
Earlier this year, Christian mother Meriam Ibrahim was spared the death penalty and allowed to go free by the court in Sudan, after having initially been found guilty of refusing to identify as a Muslim and for marrying her Christian husband. Ibrahim's freedom was won in part thanks to a huge international campaign that petitioned for her release, which included pressure on Sudan from several American politicians, such as Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.