11 November 2010
Some cases rightly get major international attention – Here I am thinking of the likes Aung San Suu Kyi, Neda Agha Soltani. It is absolutely right that the Lady’s incarceration and Neda’s murder have been major news items.
Other equally worthy cases do not seem to get the media attention they deserve. This post concerns an appalling sentence handed down to a woman in Pakistan. So far it has received little attention from the world’s press. The Telegraph is an exception (as is the Richard Dawkins website for that matter). Sadly I missed the article when it was originally published.
Asia Bibi is a 45-year-old mother-of-five who has been sentenced to death under Pakistan’s atrocious blasphemy laws
In 2009 Asia had been working as a farmhand in fields with other women, when she was asked to fetch drinking water. Some of the other women – all Muslims – refused to drink the water as it had been brought by a Christian and was therefore "unclean", according to her evidence, sparking a row.
Apparently some of the women workers had been putting her under pressure to renounce her Christian faith and accept Islam.
The women were alleged to have pressed her about Islam. She responded by sharing with them about her faith in Christ. She spoke of how Jesus Christ had died on the cross for their sins and then asked them what Mohammed had done for them. (This pragraph accordning to the site Cross Rhythms.)
The incident was forgotten until a few days later when Mrs Bibi said she was set upon by a mob. The police were called and took her to a police station for her own safety.
Under pressure from the mob the police then registered a blasphemy case against her.
Asia denies blasphemy and told investigators that she was being persecuted for her faith in a country where Christians face routine harassment and discrimination.
Ashiq Masih, her husband, said he had not had the heart to break the news to two of their children.
"I haven't told two of my younger daughters about the court's decision," he said. "They asked me many times about their mother but I can't get the courage to tell them that the judge has sentenced their mother to capital punishment for a crime she never committed." Mrs Bibi has been held in prison since June last year.
"The trial was clear," he said. "She was innocent and did not say those words."
Human rights groups believe the law is often used to discriminate against religious minorities, such as the country's estimated three million Christians. Although no one has ever been executed under Pakistan's blasphemy laws – most are freed on appeal – as many as 10 people are thought to have been murdered while on trial.
Ali Hasan Dayan, of Human Rights Watch, said the blasphemy laws were out of step with rights guaranteed under Pakistan's constitution and should be repealed. "It's an obscene law," he said. "Essentially the blasphemy law is used as a tool of persecution and to settle other scores that are nothing to do with religion.
"It makes religious minorities particularly vulnerable because it's often used against them."
There is no doubt about this, the blasphemy laws in Pakistan are appalling. It seems that they are all too often used to persecute religious minorities (most often the Ahmadiyya sect but many Christians too).
It does not matter what she said or not. It is a horrendous sentence under an evil law. Asia Bibi should be released forthwith. She and her family must then and allowed to lead her lives in peace.