Co-Chairs Celebrate the Release of Pakistani Prisoner of Conscience, Asia Bibi
WASHINGTON, DC – Reps. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), Co-Chairs of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, released the following statement following this week’s release of Pakistani Prisoner of Conscience, Asia Bibi.
“We are very glad to learn that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, of blasphemy charges and overturned her death sentence. Over the past decade the world has called for Asia’s release and for the lifting of Pakistan’s unjust blasphemy laws that target the religious freedom of minorities and incite violence.
“Asia’s ordeal began in 2009 when she fetched water for her fellow farmhands in a berry field. Several Muslim women objected to Asia, a Christian, drinking from the same bucket as them. An argument broke out, leading the other women to accuse her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Asia was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in November 2010, and the verdict was upheld five years later. Asia always maintained her innocence but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.
“Asia lost eight years of freedom for charges she was eventually cleared of because of Pakistan’s restrictive laws on religious freedom and the social hostility against minorities they reinforce. The country’s discriminatory blasphemy laws against religious minorities have resulted in sectarian violence and a culture of impunity for perpetrators of that violence.
“We also strongly applaud the Pakistani judges who have taken a stand for justice and religious freedom in this case despite death threats against them. We are grateful the Pakistani government has released Asia and secured protection for her, and we urge public officials in the country to protect religious minorities from dubious charges such as these in the future. We wish Asia the best and hope that the overturning of her conviction encourages Pakistan to rethink its laws criminalizing blasphemy.”
Asia Bibi was listed as a prisoner of conscience under the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Defending Freedom’s Project. The former Co-Chair of the Commission, Rep. Joe Pitts, advocated on her behalf.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has advocated designating Pakistan as a Country of Particular concern for systematic, ongoing and egregious religious freedom violations against Ahmadiyya Muslims, Shia Muslims and Christians, among others. In response to these human rights abuses, the United States Department of State placed Pakistan on a Special Watch List earlier this year.
The bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission was established in 2008 by unanimous consent in the United States House of Representatives to promote, defend and advocate for international human rights. The Commission undertakes public education activities, provides expert human rights advice and encourages Members of Congress to actively engage in human rights issues.