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Half a million call for Asia Bibi to be released from death row

The daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi hold a photo of their mother (CNS)

A petition calling for the release of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan has topped half a million signatures.

The online petition calls for the release of mother-of-five Asia Bibi, who was condemned to death in November 2010. She was convicted of blasphemy after a heated conversation with Muslim co-workers.

The campaign received a surge in support last week, with the number of signatures rising to more than 570,000.

The Change.org petition was organised by university student Emily Clarke, who was moved by the plight of Asia Bibi, the first woman to be sentenced to death in Pakistan.

Commenting on the latest surge in support, she said: “The latest increase is incredible – and shows that people have not forgotten Asia Bibi even though she was sentenced to death over four years ago, for a crime she steadfastly denies.”

She made her remarks to Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted Christians, which backs the campaign.

Miss Clarke added: “People who stand up for Asia Bibi in Pakistan put their lives at risk.

“In 2011 two politicians were killed for speaking out against Pakistan’s barbaric blasphemy laws.”

Shlaman Tazeer, the governor of the Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, national minorities’ minister, were shot dead because of their support for Asia Bibi.

She added: “This makes it more important than ever that the international community stands together to show our support for Asia and for the people putting their lives at risk to save her.”

The High Court in Lahore upheld the death sentence in October. Asia Bibi’s family is making a last chance appeal to Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

Neville Kyrke-Smith, national director of Aid to the Church in Need UK said: “It is important we do everything we can to get real justice for Asia Bibi and save her life.

“We need the UK government and international community to get behind her plight as well as continuing to encourage the Pakistani authorities for a fair review of the case.”

Asia Bibi was found guilty of blasphemy under Article 295C of Pakistan’s penal laws which impose a death sentences for offences of defamation against Mohammed.