Father of Pakistani woman on death row appeals for visitation rights

LAHORE, Pakistan — The father of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman on death row, has filed a High Court petition demanding the right to visit his daughter in jail after being repeatedly denied access since her 2010 conviction, his lawyer said.

Ucanews.com reports that Sardar Mushtaq Gill, the lawyer for Bibi’s father, Soran Masih, said Aug. 23: “We filed a petition in the Lahore High Court after several requests to visit Asia Bibi were rejected by jail authorities and the province’s Home Department. … It is Masih’s fundamental right to visit his daughter in jail, and this cannot be denied by jail authorities or the Punjab government.”

Asia Bibi, seen in this Nov. 20, 2010, file photo, was sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies. Her father, Soran Masih, has been denied visitation rights by jail authorities. (CNS photo | Punjab Governor House handout via EPA)

Bibi, a Roman Catholic and mother of five, was sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, a charge she denies. Bibi says she was targeted after drinking water from a vessel used by Muslim farmworkers.

The workers said it was forbidden for a Christian to drink water from the same container and later reported her for blasphemy, saying she had insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

Her appeal against the death sentence is currently pending in the Supreme Court.

“Asia has been languishing in jail since 2009 and since her conviction, I haven’t been able to meet her,” her father said.

“I am extremely worried about her health. There are reports in the media that Asia is suffering from internal intestinal bleeding,” he said.

Provincial authorities did not give a reason for denying visitation rights.

Blasphemy remains an extremely sensitive issue in predominantly Muslim Pakistan, and the laws have drawn intense criticism, even within the country.

Former Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer and Christian minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated in early 2011 after they defended Bibi and spoke out against her death sentence and the misuse of the blasphemy laws.