Update: Today’s appeal of Asia Bibi’s death sentence has been adjourned, after a judge withdrew because he had been involved in a related case. The judge said he had overseen the appeal hearing of Mumtaz Qadri, who was convicted of murdering the Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer, who had campaigned for Asia Bibi to be released. Please continue to campaign for the release of Asia Bibi, including by signing the petition below.
Asia Noreen Bibi, a Christian mother from Pakistan, will find out today whether she will be hanged, after seven years in prison following a farcical blasphemy conviction. And two Pakistani politicians who questioned her sentence have been murdered: the governor of Punjab Salmaan 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. Her final appeal will be heard today.
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, it was revealed that 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, Salmaan 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.
The President of the Pakistan Christian Congress, Nazir Bhatti, has said 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.”
We must also campaign for the repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and an end to the mob rule hysteria that accompanies accusations. Today, as Asia Bibi’s final appeal will be heard, the hashtag #HangAsia is trending in Pakistan. Three twitter users have even changed their twitter usernames to #HangAsia. Please counter this sickening trend by tweeting today with the hashtag #SaveAsiaBibi
Whatever the verdict of today’s appeal, Asia Bibi needs the support of the outside world more than she ever did. International pressure can make the difference in cases like this. So please sign and share the following petition, organised by Michael Sherlock of Human Rights for Atheists, Agnostics and Secularists.