The U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide has called on Pakistan's Supreme Court to be prompt in hearing the appeal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and mother of five children whose death sentence for "blasphemy" was upheld by the Lahore High Court this week.
CSW also called for proper security for Bibi, whose appeal was rejected by the Lahore High Court Thursday.
The Christian mother has "endured grueling conditions in nearly four years of detention on death row, much of it spent in solitary confinement," CSW said in a statement. "Her health has suffered and she has had severe restrictions on visitors."
The Christian rights group explained that her prolonged detention is partly due to security concerns, as blasphemy law victims are often attacked by Islamist extremists. "There has been a lack of progress in her case, with five hearings cancelled this year alone, as well as the intimidation of judges and lawyers."
Bibi's lawyers have said they will now appeal the death sentence in the Supreme Court, which is the only hope.
"We are disappointed and terribly upset over the decision, however we look forward to the appeal in the Supreme Court, with optimism and with the hope that the Supreme Court of Pakistan will do justice in this case," Michelle Chaudhry, president of the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation, was quoted as saying.
Bibi "has wrongly been convicted of blasphemy," Chaudhry added. "We remain optimistic that the rule of law will prevail and justice will be done. For now that is our only hope."
Bibi was sentenced in 2010 following an incident the previous year 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.
Bibi's appeal hearing was initially scheduled to take place on March 17, but was delayed and rescheduled, before finally taking place Thursday.
"We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the Lahore High Court," CSW's Chief Operating Officer Andy Dipper said, calling the sentence "a tragic reminder of the continued abuse of the dysfunctional blasphemy laws and the underlying weaknesses in Pakistan's justice system."
"Deeply-rooted problems of prejudice, inefficiency, corruption, and under-resourcing are amplified in blasphemy cases, and even more so for religious minorities," Dipper added. "The only hope she has for justice is when the case is heard in the Supreme Court."
CSW urged Pakistan's Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk to consider Bibi's case "with the utmost urgency, and to ensure her safety both throughout and after the process."
The rights group pointed to a June 19 Supreme Court judgment recommending the establishment of "a special bench to entertain complaints of violations of fundamental rights of minorities in the country."
A proactive approach to providing justice for Bibi would prove the Supreme Court's commitment to ensuring fundamental human rights and justice for all citizens of Pakistan, it said.