Ján Figeľ, the EU’s Special Envoy for promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the EU, has told Pakistani government officials that the renewal of their export privileges to Europe depends on Asia Bibi’s release from prison.
A recent EU press release reports that Ján Figeľ told the Pakistani government that the future continuity of Pakistan’s GPS Plus status will be directly linked to the outcome of Asia Bibi’s blasphemy case. The Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) allows developing countries to pay little or no duty on exports to the EU, giving vital access to the EU market and contributing to growth.
In 2013, the EU awarded GSP Plus status to Pakistan, allowing 20 percent exports to EU markets at zero tariffs and another 70 percent at preferential rates. Since then, EU countries have become the leading destination of Pakistani exports, and the ending of GSP Plus status would be a severe economic blow.
Ján Figeľ, who visited Pakistan in December to take part in the setting up of an inter-faith advisory commission to work on preventing the misuse of the blasphemy laws, stressed the need to resolve the Asia Bibi case because Italy, one of the EU strategic partners, has been pushing hard to link the renewal of GSP Plus status with her release.
The EU press release, published on 1 February 2018, also states: “The EU countries have started believing that Pakistan’s Supreme Court, appeasing certain political and fundamental forces of Pakistan, is intentionally delaying the hearing of Asia Bibi.”
Asia Bibi, a Christian farm labourer from Punjab, has been in prison since 2009 and is awaiting a Supreme Court hearing of her appeal against the death sentence for blasphemy.
(EU in Pakistan/World Watch Monitor)