Asia Bibi, an illiterate, disenfranchised and innocent Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy and has spent the last 8 years in
a Pakistani jail since 200, has been nominated for the European Union’s high-status award edition 2017 of the prestigious "Sakharov Prize for Freedom
The Prize is a positive initiative of the EU Parliament and is awarded to individuals or groups battling to defend fundamental human rights. Among
this year's nominees are: Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic, a Guatemalan human rights campaigner, Selahattin Demirtas e Figen Yuksekdag, co-presidents of
the Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey; groups and individuals representing the democratic opposition in Venezuela; Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean
playwright, arrested in 2001 by the Eritrean authorities; Pierre Claver Mbonospa, a Burundian human rights activist.
Peter Van Dalen, a member of
the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) in the European Parliament, who proposed the candidacy of Asia Bibi, explained that "Asia Bibi’s
case is of symbolic importance for others who have endured simply for expressing freedom of religion".
"Asia Bibi's nomination reminds us that heroes come in all shapes and sizes and that even just the simplest thing such as standing up for your rights and not being cowed by oppressors, can have a lasting impact on others.
"Asia Bibi has not spoken a profound lecture at a UN Meeting, she has not raised funds to support victims of other atrocities, she has not even challenged the existing laws in Pakistan that target minorities nor has she been a particularly public figure. However in simply refusing to give up her faith despite the death sentence imposed upon her and the millions of Muslims calling for her death, she has shown how even the frailest of us can make a difference.
"Asia Bibi has endured isolation, insults, the ignominy of having to cook her own food after several failed attempts to poison her and yet has stayed resolute in her faith. At any time she could gain freedom by simply converting to Islam but she refuses to do so, choosing an excellent life in heaven over the pain of this world.
"Her incarceration has alerted the world to the unjust and immoral governance in Pakistan that has led to the 70 year old nation becoming one of the most intolerant in the world. She represents every minority as she suffers for her beliefs and may never restore her freedom on this earth again - but her legacy will be one that people across the world will talk about forever.
"If bravery and determination are the deciding factors for this award then no-one could deserve it more. Its not speeches that changes society it's the sacrifice of brave individuals like Asia Bibi, Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa and Gandhi."
Mr Chowdhry explained that the Blasphemy laws in their islamicized form since the 1980's breach all human rights conventions for freedom and equality.
"No divine being needs man-made laws for protection, the retention of laws such as these despite regular international pressure highlight the insouciance of Pakistan's Government towards the suffering of the minorities living in the country.
"There is no quranic scripture that mandates blasphemy laws - this is simply a tool for discrimination and persecution that zealots use at their whim.
"No plans exist to remove or alter the laws and innocent victims like Asia Bibi spend long terns in prison under false allegations.
"The delay of a Supreme Court hearing for sister Asia is only a further indication of the pariah status of Christians and the ineffective rule of law in the country.
"If Asia Bibi is hanged as a criminal she will become the most famous Christian martyr for decades and the reverberation will be felt across the globe. It would provide some small solace if EU Representatives make the right choice and award this deserving woman for her sacrifice."
Keri-lynne Gibbs, volunteer for the BPCA, said:
"Asia Bibi has suffered not just for her personally held beliefs but for demonstrating them with considerable kindness.
"She offered water to her workmates on a hot day and was rewarded with scorn and contempt. Rather than a caustic retort to an insult, she answered with an honest inquiry that offered her oppressors and opportunity to explain their views.
"She was given heartache that no woman should have to bear, being told she deserved it; yet her grace and dignity could not be ripped from her.
"I find it difficult to think of an individual alive that has shown a more excellence spirit against the hate and violence she has endured. What she deserved is be with her husband and girls in a safe place, and though this honour would be a consolation for those who have done so little for so long, it would also be a comfort for others who have suffered for their faith."
A decision on all the nominations will be made in October and Pakistani Christians and those who care about Asia Bibi will be hanging on the edge of their seats with anticipation.