Pakistan: Asia Bibi Acquitted After Years Awaiting Death for 'Blasphemy'


Asia Bibi and two of her five children, pictured prior to her imprisonment on death row in 2010 for “blasphemy.”

Points to consider:

– Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 because she is a Christian and because she was thirsty. Today, justice was served when her conviction was overturned.

– Now, Bibi may be targeted for assassination when she is released. Islamists have placed a bounty on her head of 50 million rupees ($375,000). Salman Taseer, a brave Muslim who was governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, was murdered just for expressing support for her. Pakistan's federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also murdered for defending Bibi.

– Lawyers defending Christians and others accused of blasphemy are sometimes murdered as well.

In the ultimate irony, just a few days ago, the so-called European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld this same blasphemy law. The ECHR ruling is unspeakable. It is time to remove the unelected judges of that unaccountable and unappealable court.

After 3,422 days of cruel and unjustified imprisonment as “the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy,” the death penalty verdict against Asia Noreen Bibi has finally been overturned.

Pakistan's Supreme today set aside the death sentence against Bibi, a Roman Catholic mother of five. After being convicted in a trial in 2010 for false accusations of “blasphemy”, now justice has actually prevailed. Killing Bibi because her Muslim co-workers were offended that she, an “unclean” Christian, drank water from a communal well, was too much even for Pakistan, where Christians are habitually persecuted.

Bibi is now being “held at an undisclosed location for security reasons.” Islamist hardliners have already threatened the judges that if she is freed, those responsible would meet a “horrible” end.

On June 14, 2009, Asia Bibi drank water from a communal well on a hot day, while working in a field. Two Muslim women alleged that because she, a Christian, had touched the water from the well, the entire well was now haram (forbidden by Islamic law). Asia responded by saying “I think Jesus would see if differently from Mohammed,” that Jesus had “died on the cross for the sins of mankind,” and asked, “What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind?” This enraged the other women, who pushed and spit on her.

Five days later, as she worked in another field, a crowd of “dozens of men and women,” calling for Bibi's death, beat her savagely and carried her to the village, where police arrested her. Qari Muhammad Sallam, the village imam (who had not been present at the water dispute), and the women who said Bibi had defiled the well-water, told the police chief that Bibi had “insulted the Prophet Mohammed.”

On November 8, 2010, after just five minutes of deliberation, Asia Noreen Bibi, under Article 295 of Pakistan's Penal Code, was sentenced to death by hanging.

Asia Bibi was sentenced to death because she is a Christian and because she was thirsty.

Islamists cheered the verdict. Asia Bibi was alone against an entire country ready to sacrifice its weak Christian minority to appease the Islamists. After Bibi's arrest, her family moved houses 15 times in five years. In the last weeks there have been reports of Asia suffering dementia. Eight years of solitary confinement, with the daily risk of being murdered in prison, have been a brutal form of psychological torture. For fear of being poisoned in prison, Bibi was allowed even to prepare her own meals.

A few days ago, during the plenary meeting in Strasbourg, the president of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, said:

“Asia Bibi enraged some women for having drunk from a well. According to those women, such contact with Christian lips would have contaminated the water. After being attacked and reported for blasphemy, Asia Bibi risks being hanged. I ask the Pakistani authorities… to make sure that woman can have a fair trial and to avoid any form of discrimination or religious prejudice.”

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