How a mother’s defense of her religious beliefs has become a desperate fight for her life.
On October 29 the American Center for Law Enforcement and Justice (ACLJ) sent an emergency advocacy letter to Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States demanding the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five convicted of blasphemy in 2010, imprisoned and sentenced to hang.
The second of two such letters, the ACLJ’s demand is one part of an international effort to free Bibi that has gained support from more than 700,000 people worldwide. More than 540,000 have signed an ACLJ petition to the Pakistani government requesting Bibi’s release. Three other Christian organizations are gathering signatures on similar petitions. More than 150,000 Christians in Pakistan have signed on to one such plea, according to The Voice of the Martyrs, an interdenominational Christian persecution watchdog group.
In 2009, Bibi was involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she was harvesting berries and was accused of insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Bibi denied she had committed blasphemy, insisting a disgruntled neighbor of trying to “settle an old score” involving a feud with Bibi’s family.
Bibi’s case has had deadly repercussions. Faced with death threats, her husband and five children went into hiding. Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab province where Bibi was arrested, and Pakistan Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both assassinated after expressing public support for Bibi.
“Pakistan’s refusal to reform or abrogate these laws should be recognized as a contravention of human rights especially freedom of religion, conscience and free speech.” Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman, British Pakistani Christian Association
Bibi’s appeal was scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court in Pakistan but was postponed in early October after one of the judges recused himself because he had earlier overseen the appeal hearing of the man who murdered Punjab Governor Taseer.
Asia Bibi remains on death row while the international community continues to call for her release. Possibly due in part to such pressure, a Pakistani mother and her son facing a death sentence for blasphemy were released at the end of October. Both had been arrested on the word of a Muslim witness, with no investigation or supporting evidence. Under Pakistani law the witness of a Muslim has more authority than of a non-Muslim.
“The blasphemy laws of Pakistan serve no purpose but to cause pain and anguish to innocent victims,” said Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association. “Pakistan’s refusal to reform or abrogate these laws should be recognized as a contravention of human rights especially freedom of religion, conscience and free speech.”