Originally published in Assist News Service
Pakistan’s most famous Christian prisoner, Asia Bibi, has been nominated for the European Union’s high-status award, the Sakharov Prize.
Bibi, a mother-of-five, who is currently behind the bars waiting for a hearing of her appeal against capital punishment, was nominated by a group of European legislators.
According to Madeeha Bakhsh, writing for Christians in Pakistan (https://www.christiansinpakistan.com/), “Asia has been nominated for “Freedom of Thought” by the legislators who form an influential group European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR). This European Conservatives and Reformists Group is the third largest group in the European Parliament,” she wrote. “The European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), nominated Asia Bibi late on Wednesday, September 13.”
Peter van Dalen, a Dutch European parliamentarian and member of ECR’s faction, ChristenUnion-SGP, said: “Her case is a symbol for others hurt in their freedom of expression and especially freedom of religion. It is good that my colleagues in the ECR and I continue to defend the rights of [Asia] Bibi and many others.”
Members of the entire European Parliament will soon be casting their votes in favor of their favorite candidate.
“If a majority casts [their] votes in favour of Asia Bibi; she could win the €50 000 (R792 382,50) award for the Sakharov Prize, which is considered Europe’s most prestigious human rights award,” said Madeeha Bakhsh. “This award is named after Andrei Sakharov, a scientist and dissident hailing from the Soviet era.”
Sakharov died on December 14, 1989, and the award ceremony will be held in Strasbourg, France, on December 10.
Asia Bibi, a berry picker, was accused of committing blasphemy by her co-workers back in 2009. Later on, in 2010, a court in the Punjab district of Nankana found her guilty and she was sentenced to death by hanging, a verdict later challenged and upheld by a two-member bench of Lahore High Court in 2014.
Her appeal case is currently pending with the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
“Supposedly her final appeal hearing on October 13, 2016, was meant to wind up the most high profile case of the country, however, it was delayed as one of the judges refused to be a part of the three member bench that was to hear the case,” added Bakhsh.
She said that on the date of the hearing, Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman, one of the three judges due to hear Asia Bibi’s appeal case, suddenly withdrew saying, “I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that.”
The judge was referring to the case of the then governor of Punjab, who was assassinated on January 4, 2011, at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law and his support for Asia Bibi. Qadri was later sentenced to death by a Pakistani Anti-Terrorist court at Islamabad for murdering Taseer, and was executed on February 29 2016.
Consequently, the hearing was adjourned and Bibi is still on death row in her lonely prison cell.