Tory councillor in bid to halt Pakistani blasphemy execution

The Tory councillor plans to spend Christmas with Asia Bibi in a bid to build support for her release
The Tory councillor plans to spend Christmas with Asia Bibi in a bid to build support for her release

By Peter Wozniak

A Conservative councillor is engaging in a hectic round of shuttle diplomacy to push for the release of a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam.

Councillor Raza Anjum arrived in Pakistan at the end of last week and has since been organising meetings with senior officials including the prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani.

Mr Anjum, who represents the small market town of Saffron Waldon in Essex, expressed optimism that his efforts would "make a real difference" in the case of Asia Bibi - who is seeking a pardon from her death sentence.

Ms Bibi claims the charges of blasphemy brought against her were the result of a personal dispute with her neighbours.

Mr Anjum told "I feel that my efforts are progressing positively. There seems to be a widespread recognition amongst Pakistani politicians that this controversial case is a result of a personal dispute and that the blasphemy laws have been wrongly applied.

"In my discussion with various politicians I have emphasised the unjust nature of this case and I have called for the immediate release and pardon of Asia Bibi."

Despite the humble size of his constituency, Mr Anjum added: "I am optimistic that there is a real possibility that I will be able to make a real difference."

The Tory councillor plans to spend Christmas day accompanying Ms Bibi in prison to draw further international attention to her plight and that of Christians in Pakistan.

Asked why he felt the need to travel the 3000 miles in order to push the case, he replied: "I believe that those who believe in justice, democracy and human rights have a duty and responsibility to defend them.

"The response I am receiving from senior government officials is that my role has greatly helped the chances of a pardon."

But Mr Anjum concedes that a great deal of opposition to her release remains among hardliners and radical clerics in the country - some of whom have "put a price on the head of Asia Bibi".

He told "I am taking security precautions whilst in Pakistan as I am aware of the potential risks involved in my activities, but I believe that one needs to be brave and promote human rights.

"As a patriotic British citizen, I believe we must be unwavering and determined in standing up for those who are denied the rights and freedoms we enjoy."

The councillor is remaining in Pakistan to pursue his remaining meetings with ministers, hoping that the chorus of international condemnation from figures including the Pope continue to gather pace.

Ms Bibi's case represents the first time Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws have been employed to sentence someone to death.

The Saffron Walden councillor claimed the law is often abused by those looking to settle personal grudges.


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