WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday urged Pakistan to do more to stop the abuse of blasphemy laws after the release of Asia Bibi, who escaped a death sentence in a case that drew international scrutiny.
Releasing an annual report on international religious freedom, Pompeo estimated that more than 40 others were serving life sentences or facing execution for blasphemy in Pakistan.
“We continue to call for their release and encourage the government to appoint an envoy to address religious freedom concerns,” Pompeo said.
The Christian woman was on the death row since November 2010 after she was convicted on charges of committing blasphemy during an argument with two Muslim women in Sheikhupura.
Her case gained prominence after then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer pleaded for a retrial of her case and was subsequently shot dead by one of his guards, Mumtaz Qadri, in January 2011.
Aasia challenged the verdict in October 2014 however; the LHC upheld the death sentence. The apex court had stayed the execution in July 2015.
After a three-year hiatus, a three-judge special bench, headed by former CJP Nisar, and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, heard the appeal and acquitted her of all charges
Pompeo also strongly criticised US adversaries Iran and China, pointing to Beijing’s detention of some one million Muslims, mostly from the Uighur ethnic minority group, and its “intense persecution” of Tibetan Buddhists, Christians and the Falungong spiritual movement.
While President Donald Trump’s administration has often hesitated to criticise ally Saudi Arabia, the report spoke of widespread abuses in the kingdom.
Quoting non-governmental groups, the report said Saudi Arabia has detained more than 1,000 Shias since 2011, mostly for non-violence offenses such as participating in or promoting protests on social media.
Sam Brownback, the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, acknowledged disappointment since the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“I think there was a lot of hope at first in the change of leadership that things would open up substantially. We need to see actions take place in a positive direction,” he told reporters.
“They continue to be one of the worst actors in the world on religious persecution,” Brownback said.
In April, which was after the timeframe of the 2018 report, Saudi Arabia conducted a mass execution of 37 people.