Pakistan has, yet again, demonstrated that it does not respect religious liberty. Yesterday, Pakistan’s Lahore High Court upheld the death penalty for Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, on blasphemy charges. Bibi’s lawyers will appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but, as of now, Bibi will be hanged for blasphemy.

Bibi, a farm worker and mother of five, was first accused of blasphemy in June 2009 after she got into an argument with a Muslim woman over carrying a water bowl. The Muslim woman alleged that, as a Christian, Bibi was unfit to touch the water bowl. The Muslim woman claims that Bibi insulted the Muslim prophet Mohammed during their altercation and insisted she be tried for blasphemy.

Under Pakistan’s legal system, blasphemy constitutes acts such as desecrating a place of worship, burning pages of the Quran, and defaming Mohammed. Pakistan’s blasphemy law is leveled only at those blaspheming Islam, and does not provide protection for any other religious group.

An estimated 1,274 people have been accused of violating the blasphemy laws. At present, there are an estimated 16 Pakistanis on death row and another 20 individuals serving life imprisonment for blasphemy against Islam. Thirteen percent of the accused were Christian, 50 percent were Muslim, and the rest belong to other minority religious groups.

Pakistani Muslims and Christians alike are outraged over Bibi’s case. In fact, two prominent Pakistani leaders, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were murdered three years ago by religious extremists for supporting Bibi and attempting to abolish the blasphemy laws. In the wake of their assassinations, then Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari commended Taseer and Bhatti as courageous heroes.

In a recent article from CNN, former Pakistani parliamentarian, Farahnaz Ispahani, and Nina Shea, senior fellow and director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, further expounded on the ways in which Pakistan’s blasphemy laws facilitate persecution of religious minorities:

The blasphemy law was originally introduced to appease extremists, but has instead           stimulated an appetite for more. As Bhatti noted: “This law is creating disharmony and intolerance in our society.” He is right—it legitimizes and inflames religious passions over speech, while providing extremists a platform within the very heart of Pakistani society.

Bibi’s case is just one example of the kind of persecution, violence, and intimidation that members of Pakistan’s religious minorities face on a regular basis. Just last year, terrorists bombed the famous All Saints Church in Peshawar, killing more than 80 Christians during a worship service. The bombing was the largest single attack ever targeting Christians in Pakistan.

Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Lisa Curtis had this to say:

The growing pattern of religious intolerance and support for extremist ideologies in Pakistan—most recently exemplified by the mixed reaction in Pakistan to Malala Yousafzai winning the Nobel Peace Prize—increasingly puts the lives of millions of members of religious minorities in danger. It also is threatening the very fabric of Pakistani society and undermining democracy.

The U.S. needs to make the case for religious freedom in Pakistan and support those individuals and organizations who seek to defend religious minorities against the growing tide of Islamist extremism in the country.