The death sentence on Asia Bibi, who was first found guilty of blasphemy in November 2010, was confirmed today by the Pakistani High Court.
She was defended by Christian lawyers including the Provincial Minister for Minorities Affairs and Human Rights, Tahir Khalil Sindhu. However, two judges – Justice Anwar Ul Haq and Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi – upheld the original sentence.
She has been supported in her long-running case by the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an organisation working for persecuted Christians in Pakistan. CLAAS will submit a final appeal to the Supreme Court within the required 30 days, but the process could still last a number of years.
Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK said: "I am very disappointed with today's result and my thoughts and prayers are with Asia's family. It is not surprising that the judges were swayed by pressure from local influential Muslims, but I had hoped that justice would prevail and that the case would be judged based on its merits.
"While the rest of the world condemns such draconian laws, Pakistan continues to persecute its minorities simply because of their religion.
"I have to now remain hopeful that the Supreme Court judges will look at the case objectively and allow the final appeal, eventually acquitting Asia."
Mrs Bibi's case reflects the deep religious tensions in parts of Pakistan and in the eyes of many campaigners illustrates the shortcomings of the country's blasphemy law, which is used to settle private scores. In June 2009 she was involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women after they became angry with her for drinking the same water as them. She was subsequently accused of insulting the prophet Mohammed, a charge she denies, arrested and imprisoned. Her health has suffered badly while in prison and her family has gone into hiding. A cleric offered a reward for her murder in prison and Italy, France and Spain have all offered her and her family asylum if she is released.
Her case has attracted world-wide attention, with a call from Pope Benedict XVI for her to be released. It has also led to at least two murders, further illustrating the intensity of religious feeling in Pakistan: Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab, was assassinated in January 2011 for his criticism of the blasphemy laws and Christian minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the cabinet, was murdered two months later.