New hope for Aasia Bibi
Support for a poor Christian lady working on a rural farm in Pakistan has been phenomenal. Her accuser would have never thought of such consequences coming out of her malicious demeaning of Aasia Bibi

Nasir Saeed
July 28, 2015

After the recent preliminary hearing of Aasia Bibi’s case and suspension of her death sentence until further hearing of her appeal by the Supreme Court (SC), new hope for justice has risen for her. Amazingly, it became breaking news within the next 10 minutes, not only on the Pakistani media but also throughout the world. The global media has never stopped talking about her agony. She is not the only Christian woman charged under the blasphemy law; there are several, some of whom have fled the country. Others were freed by the courts but are still living in hiding and no one cares about them apart from their families and maybe a few Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

However, Aasia’s case has become something of phenomenal significance. It came into the limelight when she was sentenced to death in 2010 and the then governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, intervened to get her justice. He took up her case for a presidential pardon but was widely criticised. He called the blasphemy law a black law, which infuriated many extremists and, in 2011, he was killed by his own bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri. Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian minister, was also killed by Islamic extremists for intervening in the case and demanding changes in the blasphemy law. A clear message was being sent out by extremists to the aspirants of changes and though Sherry Rehman showed some courage, the PPP government could not show any guts even after losing two of their most prominent politicians.

The news of the staying of Aasia’s death sentence has come as a relief for millions of her supporters throughout the world who were worried after the lifting of the moratorium on death sentences in Pakistan and consequent executions of several people, including a Christian named Aftab Bahadur, in Lahore. Incredibly, Aasia has an enormous support base, which is continuing to grow. Social media has been talking about her and many books, CDs and DVDs have been released in support of her case. Countless people have been praying for her every day. Several petitions have been handed over to world leaders and France has given Aasia honorary citizenship, while other countries have also expressed their willingness to accept and welcome her.

The world’s Christian, religious leaders are worried about her; Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is concerned about Pakistani Christians and her husband, Ashiq Masih, met Pope Francis in the Vatican. Such support for a poor Christian lady working on a rural farm in Pakistan is phenomenal. Her accuser would have never thought of such consequences coming out of her malicious demeaning of Aasia Bibi. But it may all mean nothing as her life is still in the balance. She has been incarcerated in an isolated prison cell without any windows, sink or toilet because of the extremist threat to her life. She had lost all hope for her life and had written a letter to her husband saying: “Since I have returned to my cell and have known that I am going to die, all my thoughts have turned to you and my adoring children. Nothing pains me more than to leave you alone in total anguish”. I am sure the recent development in her case would have calmed her and would have instilled new hope for her to be reunited with her family. Her children might have already started dreaming of getting their mother back.

This is going to be the second case of blasphemy and the first of any Christian woman sentenced to death to be heard by the Pakistan SC. The first case was of Ayub Masih who was successfully defended by the country’s most reputed and prominent lawyer, Abid Hassan Minto. On August 15, 2002, Ayub was freed by the SC and later was moved to an unknown location by a Christian NGO for security reasons. This time, a well-known lawyer, Saiful Malluck, is enthusiastically defending Aasia. He believes that since there is no evidence against her and since the allegations stemmed from a bowl of water, she will be freed. Also, the main complainant, a local imam, Mohammad Salaam, had not heard Aasia blaspheme and his original FIR had been filed five days after the event. I also hope that the SC decides her case without any pressure and with diligence so justice can be done for her.

I hope that in the next hearing the charges against Aasia will be dropped and she will be freed by the SC. However, the government has a responsibility to protect her and to stop the misuse of this law as innocent people have to suffer for years to get justice for crimes they have never committed. Even after acquittal there are limited chances to lead a normal life in Pakistan and people live in constant fear for their lives. Although no one has been executed until now by the courts, several people have been killed by vigilantes and the government has failed to bring the perpetrators to justice. The government’s obliviousness encourages extremists to take the law into their own hands and strengthens their belief in crowd and individual justice.

Last year, a Christian couple, Shama and Shahzad, were beaten and then incinerated in a brick kiln furnace. Recently, in Maki Chak, in the district of Sheikhupura, a Christian family was accused of blasphemy, their heads were shaved, faces painted black, a garland of shoes placed around their necks and then they were paraded through the town.

The world is continuously demanding changes in the blasphemy law. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) recently criticised the whole scenario and pointed out that the abuse of the blasphemy laws continues to take a heavy toll. The EU Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) has expressed its concern over the continuous misuse of the blasphemy laws and treatment of minorities. UN special Rapporteur Mr Heiner Bielefeldt has raised his concerns while the US Commission on International Religious Freedom has identified Pakistan as the worst violator among those not currently on the blacklist. It has urged the Obama administration to designate Pakistan to the country of particular concern status.

Moreover, even Pakistani politicians have admitted that the blasphemy law is being misused, but still there are no signs of change or bringing it to parliament for debate. This is our law, we made it and we have to amend it for the sake of security and the protection of our own people.