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13 October 2016

Asia Bibi appeal adjourned again

Asia Bibi appeal adjourned again

Asia Bibi's appeal against her death sentence for apostasy has been adjourned again following the decision of a leading judge to withdraw from the trial.

Justice Muhammad Iqbal Hameed Ur Rehman stepped back from the case on the grounds of conflict of interest.

Justice Rehman was a judge in the case of the Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer who was assasinated for taking a stand against the blasphemy laws.

Alliance member Release International is urging Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy law.

Paul Robinson, CEO of Release International, said: "The blasphemy laws are being used to fuel the flames of intolerance. That's why they must be repealed.

"What is clear is that it will take immense courage to withstand intimidation and release Asia Bibi – a fact underlined by the presence of so many riot police at the court this morning."

Around 150 Muslim clerics have issued a fatwa warning the government not to release Bibi, and threatening to kill anyone who helped any person accused of blasphemy.

Bibi has been on death row for six years, along with at least 15 others on blasphemy charges.

She has always denied all charges.

Paul Robinson said: "Release has been in contact with Asia's family and her faith remains strong.

"Pray for her."

Since 1987, upwards of 1,300 people have been charged with blasphemy with the number of accusations rising to more than 100 in 2014.

A disproportionate number of those accused are Christians.

A lawyer, a judge and two leading politicians have been assassinated for taking a stand against the blasphemy laws.

Paul Robinson continued: "Time and again, we have seen these notorious laws abused to target individuals and devastate their lives.

"These laws are invoked to destroy lives and encourage extremism.

"Merely to accuse a person of blasphemy can be to pass a sentence of death. Families have been murdered and Christians driven from their homes and even burned alive in mob violence.

"All too often, even when the courts confirm a person's innocence, vigilantes will take the law into their own hands and murder those who have been accused, often without a shred of evidence."

Release International has been pressing for the repeal of the blasphemy laws since 2011 and launched a new petition after a suicide bomber targeted Christian families in Lahore this Easter, killing more than 70, the majority of which were Muslims.

The Release petition can be signed online through the Release International website or on Change.org.