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Family Expresses Hope For Christian Woman Condemned For Blasphemy In Pakistan

Supporters of Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan, a hardline religious political party hold placards as they march during a protest in Rawalpindi on October 12.
Supporters of Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan, a hardline religious political party hold placards as they march during a protest in Rawalpindi on October 12.

Relatives of a Christian mother who faces becoming the first person to be executed for blasphemy in Pakistan have expressed hope that the Supreme Court will set her free.

"We are hopeful that whatever the court proceedings are, it will come out as positive for us," Ashiq Mesih, the husband of the imprisoned Asia Bibi, told the AFP news agency on October 13.

Her daughter, Eisham Ashiq, said: "I will be very happy the day my mother will be released. I will hug her and will cry meeting her and will thank God that he has got her released."

In 2010, Bibi was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws in a case that has generated global headlines and indignation.

Pakistan's Supreme Court on October 8 heard what media described as the final appeal of the woman, who has denied all charges.

The three-judge bench listened to Bibi's defense lawyer challenge statements by those who accused her of making derogatory remarks about Islam.

Bibi, a mother of four and a laborer, was accused in 2009 by a Muslim woman she was working with in a field.

Following the hearing, the Supreme Court said it had made a decision in the case, but it did not reveal its judgment.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) speculated that the Supreme Court’s refusal to publicly announce its decision could be a sign of hope for Bibi.

"Given the religiously charged atmosphere of the country regarding blasphemy cases, it is understandable that the court would avoid announcing its decision… especially if it is in Asia Bibi's favor," the ACLJ said on October 9.

Several thousand Islamist hard-liners protested in Lahore on October 12 against the women and some have threatened to kill her if she is released.

A hard-line Pakistani Islamist party warned of "terrible consequences" if she is granted leniency in her appeal.

"If there is any attempt to hand her over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences," Tehreek-e Labaik Pakistan said in a statement.

Bibi's family members are in London on a trip organized by Aid to the Church in Need, a charity that helps Christians worldwide who are believed to be in danger.

While Pakistan's laws carry the death penalty for blasphemy and offenders have been sentenced to death, no convict has ever been executed so far. People charged with blasphemy but later freed have had to flee the country for their safety.

At least 1,472 people were charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2016, according to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice.

It said Muslims constituted a majority of those prosecuted, followed by members of the Ahmadi, Christian, and Hindu minorities.

Rights groups say the laws are increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.

With reporting by AFP and The Baptist Press

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