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UN Approval of Resolution Could be Devastating for Many Christians

Pakistan Sentencing of Christian Woman to Death for 'Blasphemy' Demonstrates Why Defamation Resolution Must Be Defeated

Contact: Jerry Dykstra, Open Doors USA, 616-915-4117, jerryd@odusa.org

SANTA ANA, Calif., Nov. 16 /Christian Newswire/ -- Ten days ago Asia Noreen, a Pakistani Christian mother of five previously referred to as Asia Bibi by most media, was sentenced to death by hanging on "blasphemy" charges. She became the first woman to receive the death sentence in Pakistan.

Noreen was originally arrested in June 2009 after local Muslims accused her of denying that Muhammad was a prophet and insulting him and the Quran, according to Compass Direct News. She reportedly was under pressure from her fellow workers to convert to Islam.

Compass reported Monday that attorneys for Noreen have filed an appeal of the verdict. Ataul Saman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) said that lower court verdicts in blasphemy cases are usually overturned by higher courts, according to Compass. He said lower court proceedings take place under intense pressure, with local Muslims gathering outside and chanting slogans to pressure judges. Saman added that NCJP research showed that up to 80 percent of blasphemy charges are filed against people to settle personal scores.

Compass says rights groups have long criticized Pakistan's blasphemy laws as too easily used to settle grudges or oppress religious minorities, such as the more than 4 million Christians that Operation World, an international prayer guide for countries, estimates out of Pakistan's total population of 184.7 million. Compass reports that to date no one has been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, as most are freed on appeal after suffering for years under appalling prison conditions. Vigilantes have killed at least 10 people accused of blasphemy, rights groups estimate.

In 1999 Pakistan was the first country to introduce a bill at the United Nations called the "Defamation of Islam."  It later was renamed the "Defamation of Religions Resolution." Many countries now supporting the resolution are the Islamic-majority countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The group says the bill focuses on promoting tolerance and protecting religious freedom.

However, it does the exact opposite for Christians, other religious minorities and even Muslims who do not adhere to government-approved versions of Islam. In effect, the Defamation of Religions Resolution is an international blasphemy law. If the resolution passes again, it would give international legitimacy to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and restrictive legislation in other mostly Muslim countries.

"It is incredibly sad and ironic that Pakistan has sentenced a Christian woman to death by hanging just days before a vote on the resolution at the United Nations that many countries are backing to purportedly protect religious freedom," says Open Doors USA President/CEO Carl Moeller. "This sentencing should alert countries and individuals to the serious consequences of passing this resolution."

Lindsay Vessey, Director of Advocacy for Open Doors USA, says: "I was recently in New York City lobbying various countries at the United Nations to change their vote on the Defamation of Religions Resolution. Open Doors was privileged to work with a group of other organizations and church groups during these lobbying efforts. We met with officials of over 20 countries. We had some very productive meetings and look forward to see if some of these countries vote against the non-binding resolution which comes up for reaffirmation each year. If defeated this year, the OIC will be forced to compromise on its efforts to create an international blasphemy law."

Vessey says the resolution will be voted on in the United Nation's Third Committee later this week, while the General Assembly vote will likely be held in early December.

Open Doors launched an advocacy campaign called "Free to Believe" two months ago. The campaign focuses on helping persecuted Christians who currently do not have religious freedom like Christians do in the United States and other free countries. Over 200,000 Open Doors supporters worldwide have spoken out against the resolution. To add your voice, go to www.freetobelieve.info.

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our website at www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.

(To set up an interview, contact Jerry Dykstra at 616-915-4117 or email jerryd@odusa.org)