Campaign launched to free Pakistan mother on death row 'for drinking water'
A UK-based human rights organisation is calling for the release of a mother of five currently on death row in Pakistan for allegedly blaspheming during an argument over drinking water.
The Global Minorities Alliance (GMA) has launched a worldwide awareness raising campaign to free Aasia (also known as Asia) Bibi, the first woman in Pakistan's history to receive a death sentence under blasphemy laws.
As well as aiming to gather half a million signatures for a petition against the sentence, GMA has also launched a song to raise awareness of her plight at a well-attended event at Wellington Church in Glasgow on Saturday 7 September, where noted guests included John Mason, MSP for Shettleston.
The song, called "Free Aasia Bibi", is a call for her release as well as a message to the world about Pakistan's discriminatory blasphemy laws.
The song, written by GMA's Vice-Chairperson Shahid Khan, composed and produced by musician Sam Gallagher and performed by the GMA Band, is a call for solidarity to demonstrate how people across the world are standing with her as the third anniversary of her death sentence approaches.
"The song is the expression of the inner most feelings of concerned people across the world who share in the pain and sufferings of Aasia, along with her family who is currently in hiding in Pakistan due to the threats and fears from the extremists," said Mr Shahid Khan.
"We continue to stand with the persecuted that are subject to violations, oppression and tyranny. Music is our way and message to the world to treat other human beings with love, honor and dignity regardless of anything else."
In June 2009, Aasia Bibi, a Christian farm hand and mother of five from the small village of Ittianwali in Sheikhupura District of Punjab, Pakistan, had a heated argument with her fellow labourers over a seemingly trivial matter of drinking water from the same glass as them. Bibi was then accused of using derogatory words about the prophet Mohammed and was subsequently arrested.
According to some reports she had a noose put around her neck and was dragged through the streets by the village men before taken into police custody where a First Investigation Report (FIR) was lodged which cited Section 295-C of Pakistan's blasphemy laws for her arrest:
"Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."
Following pressure from influential Muslims in the area, she was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in November 2010.
Later Bibi applied for clemency under Article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which allows the President of Pakistan to pardon any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or authority. Bibi's case is currently pending an appeal at Lahore High Court, and despite of the international outcry against the misuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws and countless pleas from human rights organizations, religious leaders and politicians across the world, she is still kept in solitary confinement in Multan women's prison.
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She was moved there from Shiekhupura jail amid security issues following prison breaks by militants in North West Pakistan; however, there are still fears for her safety as other blasphemy convicts have died by having their food poisoned during their incarceration.
"We are extremely concerned about the safety of Aasia Bibi in light of the prison breaks in Pakistan and the threats from militants who want to take away her life," said Mr Manassi Bernard, GMA's Chief Executive.
"She is facing threats not only from the outside but also from within prison, which is making us more concerned about her safety," he added.
GMA has recently launched an online petition and is aiming to gather 500,000 signatures demanding the release of Bibi. The petition will later be presented to Pakistan Consulate in Glasgow, both to further Aasia's cause and to urge the Pakistan Government to stop the widespread misuse of Pakistan blasphemy laws.
The petition is available at www.globalminorities.co.uk/FreeAasia
GMA has vowed to work against persecution, such as the kind Aasia Bibi is currently facing, by working through national and international ambassadors in countries of concern such as Pakistan, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran and Indonesia where members of minorities are made prisoners of persecution by harassment, imprisonment or killing.
GMA is also advocating for Rohingya Muslims and Iranian Baha'is, and is currently planning parliamentary sessions, both in Holyrood and Westminster. GMA has also recently visited Berlin to speak to German parliamentarians about human rights violations the world over, and also holds awareness-raising sessions in the UK to advocate for persecuted communities.
"Our message to the world is of hope and love. There is enough pain, death and suffering in our world and we continue to spread our message of love and light to the far corners of the world through the work of the Global Minorities Alliance, be that through our peace education project or becoming a voice for the persecuted communities around the world," said Mr Shahid Khan.
You can sign and share the petition by clicking going to http://www.globalminorities.co.uk/FreeAasia.
The song is available to download from iTunes