Pakistani woman Asia Bibi lost an appeal this week to overturn her death sentence stemming from a 2009 argument with coworkers. Her case will now go to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. If the ruling is upheld, Bibi will be the first woman killed under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.
Bibi was working as a berry picker in 2009 when an argument broke out between her and her coworkers. The coworkers, who were Muslim, told Bibi that she could not drink from their cup because she was Christian, and therefore unclean. An argument ensued.
Later that day, one of Bibi’s coworkers reported her to a local cleric and said Bibi blasphemed the prophet Mohammad during the argument – an allegation that Bibi denies to this day. An angry mob showed up at Bibi’s house that night and ruthlessly beat her and her family. She was later arrested, charged with blasphemy, and sentenced to death.
Bibi appealed her death sentence to a higher court. Since she had the backing of lawyers and several international organizations, many expected the punishment to be overturned. However, the appeals court upheld her death sentence. Bibi’s only remaining hope is that Pakistan’s Supreme Court will overturn the ruling.
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, called the case “the latest blasphemy outrage” to come out of Pakistan.
“It seems obvious that this is a case of religious persecution, and it’s very likely the result of a squabble which escalated out of all proportion,” Allen tells MailOnline. “Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan are often used to settle petty vendettas and persecute minority groups. It’s a complete disgrace that the courts are complicit in these vendettas.”
A spokesperson from Christian Solidarity Worldwide also spoke on Bibi’s case.
“Asia Bibi’s sentence is a tragic reminder of the continued abuse of the dysfunctional blasphemy laws and the underlying weaknesses in Pakistan's justice system,” the spokesperson says. “Deeply-rooted problems of prejudice, inefficiency, corruption, and under-resourcing are amplified in blasphemy cases, and even more so for religious minorities.”
Bibi will remain in prison until the Supreme Court hears her case. A number of prominent international figures, including Pope Benedict XVI, have pleaded with Pakistan’s government to overturn the sentence. A recent petition calling for Bibi’s release garnered over 400,000 signatures from people in 100 countries worldwide.