Court grants visitation rights to father of Pakistani woman on death row

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/Punjab Governor House handout via EPA)

Lahore, Pakistan — A Pakistani court has directed the Punjab provincial government and police to give the father of death row convict Asia Bibi prison visitation rights, a family lawyer said.

The directive came Aug. 25, two days after Soran Masih filed a petition in the Lahore High Court demanding access to his daughter, reporting

Masih said authorities had repeatedly blocked him from the prison following Bibi's conviction for blasphemy in 2012.

"Judge Muhammad Anwar ul Haq issued directives to the jail superintendent of Multan and the Home Department to let Soran Masih and his family members see Asia Bibi," Sardar Mushtaq Gill, Masih's lawyer, told Aug. 25.

"We are thankful to the high court for a swift action on our petition," Gill said.

He said Masih and other close family members could now visit Bibi when they want.

She is being held in the central Pakistani city of Multan, some 180 miles from Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab province. Her appeal against the death sentence is currently pending in the Supreme Court.

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.

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.

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