Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has had her execution temporarily suspended by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and could now be fully acquitted of her blasphemy charges.
Officer for the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Naveed Aziz, said in an update from the courtroom in Islamabad:
"The Supreme Court of Pakistan has stayed execution of Asia Bibi on blasphemy charges. The full bench of Supreme Court ordered in today's hearing issued orders to stop implementation of death sentence till next order. I am pleased at this decision. It is obvious that international pressure led to this amazing decision and I thank all people who have called for her freedom. Sister Asia will have to spend more time in jail, but her freedom is now a real possibility and only a matter of time."
Found guilty of blasphemy in November 2010, Bibi has been imprisoned for five years and is currently on death row. She continues to deny accusations that she insulted the Prophet Muhammad – charges levelled at her by former colleagues.
Human rights groups say that Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws are frequently misused by extremists, and false charges brought against Christians in order to settle personal scores or to seize property or businesses. Bibi's case made global headlines when two prominent politicians were assassinated after trying to help her.
Following today's result, Chairman of the BPCA, Wilson Chowdhry, welcomed news of Bibi's possible release, but condemned the blasphemy laws as "draconian", adding that they are a "tool for discrimination, vendettas and hatred".
"The impunity with which perpetrators of false charges can stir up community hatred, magnified by the intolerance and similar permission for mosques to preach hatred, have created a toxic situation for minorities. They are now fleeing Pakistan in their droves with thousands upon thousands being re-persecuted in South-East Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka," Chowdhry added.
"People across the globe can now take a deep breath. Our efforts have yielded success and our sister although still confined and without full liberty, now knows that her freedom is soon to be achieved. The family will still need our support and prayers and we must not let for them or the millions of other victims suffering in the pariah state of Pakistan."
Pakistan has long struggled with discrimination against religious minorities, and a report released in December last year said an "oppressive environment" was making it "increasingly difficult for many religious communities to live securely and free from danger in places where they have often spent the majority of their lives."
The Minority Rights Group and International and Sustainable Development Policy Institute said that "violent attacks against religious minorities occur against a backdrop of legal and social discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives, including political participation, marriage and freedom of belief," and called for increased protections for all citizens.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom in May urged the Obama Administration to designate Pakistan a "country of particular concern".
"The government failed to protect citizens, minority and majority alike, from sectarian and religiously-motivated violence, and Pakistani authorities have not consistently brought perpetrators to justice or taken action against societal actors who incite violence," the Commission said in its annual report.
A petition initiated by the BPCA calling for Bibi's release now has over 10,000 signatures. To add your signature, click here
A fundraising appeal is also being run by the BPCA, which hopes to raise funds towards Bibi's legal fees, as well as for her family. Details can be found here.