Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi is seen in an undated photo. CNS photo/Handout via Reuters

House of Commons calls on Pakistan to release Christian woman held on blasphemy charges

By 
  • December 13, 2011

OTTAWA - Canada’s Parliament has called on Pakistan to release a Christian woman who faces a possible death sentence under that country’s onerous blasphemy laws.

On Dec. 8, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion “calling upon the Government of Pakistan to immediately release Ms. Asia Bibi, to ensure her safety and well-being, to hear the outcry of the international community and to respect the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The motion, tabled by Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, was welcomed by International Christian Voice, a religious freedom organization founded by Peter Bhatti, the brother of the former Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who was assassinated March 2 this year.

Bhatti was the second highly ranked Pakistani official who was assassinated for speaking against the blasphemy laws. On Jan. 4, Punjab province governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard for defence of Bibi. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was the only Christian in the Pakistani government. His brother Dr. Paul Bhatti, was appointed as an advisor to the Pakistani Prime Minister on minority issues in late March.

“International Christian Voice along with the religious minorities of Pakistan, strongly appreciate the Canadian government for approving a motion calling upon the Government of Pakistan for the immediate release of Asia Bibi and to repeal its blasphemy laws,” said Peter Bhatti in a news release. “We feel very proud and blessed to be a part of a country that fights for justice and religious freedom not only for Canadians but for all. Canada continues to stand as a champion of human rights, democracy and religious freedom.”

On Dec. 9, as Canada marked Human Rights Day, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called 2011 a “landmark year” for human rights, but noted many innocent people continued to be persecuted for their sexual orientation, politics or religion. He reiterated the government’s pledge to establish an Office of Religious Freedom. “The history of humanity has proven that religious freedom and democratic freedom are inseparable,” Baird said in a statement.

On Dec. 5, in a statement to the House, Conservative MP Bob Dechert, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, reminded the House of Baird’s response last November to Bibi’s incarceration.

“At the time, the Government of Canada registered its concerns with Pakistan at high levels,” Dechert said. “We have also called on the Government of Pakistan to repeal laws criminalizing blasphemy, which restrict religious freedom and expression and have disproportionately targeted religious minorities.”

Dechert said human right promotion and protection remain integral to Canada’s foreign policy.

The Foreign Affairs ministry has been conducting consultations on the Office of Religious Freedom but no date has been announced for its establishment.

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