Asia Noreen Bibi, a 41-year-old Christian mother from Pakistan, has now spent three years in prison and faces execution by hanging after a farcical blasphemy conviction. And last year two Pakistani politicians who questioned her sentence were murdered: the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, killed by his own bodyguard, and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who predicted his death.
In June 2009, Asia went to fetch water while picking fruits in the fields near her village. Some Muslim women co-workers objected to Asia touching the water bowl because she was a Christian and therefore unclean. Five days later, the Muslim women claimed that Asia had made critical comments about Muhammad, and a mob gathered to punish her. The police arrested Asia (and not, of course, the mob) and she was charged with blasphemy. She languished in jail for a year and half until November 2010, when she was found guilty and sentenced to hang.
The Pakistani blasphemy law is imposed arbitrarily, and with little due process. Often, the accusers have other unrelated grudges against the person they are accusing. In this case, Asia Bibi had been involved in a dispute with her neighbors, because a goat belonging to Asia had damaged a trough belonging to one of her neighbors. And it was her Muslim co-workers in the fields who first taunted her about being an unclean Christian, which of course was not considered to be an act of blasphemy against Asia’s variation of the Abrahamic god.
After Asia was convicted, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, predicted that the President would pardon her if she did not win an appeal. And Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti conducted a preliminary investigation into the case, which found that she had been falsely accused and the charges were groundless.
Within months both politicians had been murdered, because of their interventions in support of Asia Bibi and against her death penalty.
In January 2011 Taseer was shot dead by one of his bodyguards, and his killer was feted with flower petals by lawyers when he entered court for his trial. In March 2011 Bhatti was also shot dead. He was the only Christian member of the Pakistani government, he had sought but failed to get extra security, and he had recorded a video predicting his assassination.
Today, three years since she was first thrown in prison, and a year and half since she was sentenced to hang, Asia Bibi is awaiting a hearing date for her appeal to the Lahore High Court. Poor Pakistanis can often wait years for such hearing dates. Asia Bibi needs the support of the outside world more than she ever did. International pressure can make the difference in cases like this.
We must also campaign for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and an end to the mob rule hysteria that often accompanies accusations of blasphemy. Just two weeks ago, a homeless Pakistani man, who was reported to be mentally ill, was arrested for damaging a Quran. A mob attacked the police station, dragged the man outside, beat him to death and set him on fire.
Pakistan Christian Congress
Just this week, the President of the Pakistan Christian Congress, Nazir Bhatti, appealed to President Asif Ali Zardari to pardon Asia Bibi due to her ill health, so that she can receive medical support. He also said that justice is never ensured to religious minorities in Pakistan.
Bhatti elaborated that “Pakistani Christians have lost their confidence in the judicial system, judiciary and higher courts because it protected and released Muslims who attacked Churches, killed worshipers, burnt alive women and children, gunned down pastors, never punished Muslims who filed false blasphemy cases against Christians, and never charged Muslims who enforcedly converted Christian women to Islam and gang raped Christian girls after kidnapping.”
What you can do to help
- Support the campaign groups listed under Further Information
- Contact the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari
- Contact your politicians and your Pakistani embassy
- Contact the Pakistan Christian Congress
- Buy the song Free Asia Bibi by ooberfuse feat Wizard MC
- Share the YouTube video of the song Free Asia Bibi
- Sign the Asia Bibi petition at callformercy.com
- Tweet a message of support with hashtag #freeasiabibi
- Ask your friends to speak out about the case
- Wikipedia article about Asia Bibi
- Pakistan Christian Congress
- Free Asia Noreen Bibi page on Facebook
- Save Asia Bibi page on Facebook
- British Pakistani Christian Association support website
- Petition to UN signed by 50 NGOs
- Book about Asia Bibi (to be published in Oct 2012)