Asia Bibi is speaking out against an often-abused Pakistani law that was used to keep her on death row for eight years before being acquitted by the country’s highest court last October.
Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, was accused of blasphemy in 2009 after arguing with fellow berry pickers in rural Punjab. She had taken a drink from a water container, and her Muslim co-workers refused to drink from it after it had been touched by a Christian. Bibi reportedly said, “My Christ died for me; what did Muhammad do for you?” She was beaten and later sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
According to the British Pakistani Christian Association, the law was introduced by Britain in the 19th century to protect Muslims from Hindus, but it was Islamized in the 1980s and has since been used “as a tool for discrimination by Islamists and to extort property and settle vendettas with Christians and Ahmadis by Muslims.”
In spite of many inconsistencies in the testimonies against Bibi, she lost her initial appeal in 2016. Last October the nation’s Supreme Court exonerated her, but she had to spend another seven months in custody as the government reportedly feared a backlash from hardline Islamists if they released her. She finally was able to find safe haven in Canada this past May and hopes eventually to move with her family to an undisclosed country in Europe.
Bibi said she is thankful for her acquittal and release, but she is concerned about others in Pakistan who are facing spurious charges of blasphemy.
“There are many other cases,” she said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, “where the accused are lying in jail for years, and their decision should also be done on merit. The world should listen to them.
“I request the whole world to pay attention to this issue. The way any person is alleged of blasphemy without any proper investigation, without any proper proof, that should be noticed. This blasphemy law should be reviewed, and there should be proper investigation mechanisms while applying this law.”
Above: In a 2010 file photo, Asia Bibi’s daughters hold a picture of their mother after her conviction on charges of blasphemy.
Photo: ADREES LATIF/REUTERS/Newscom