Asia News is leading an effort to deliver as many messages as possible, whether through their site or directly to Pakistani President Zardari, demanding not only the release of Asia Bibi, but also lasting and meaningful reforms that remove Pakistan’s laws against blasphemy and insulting Islam as the scourge that they are on minority rights and freedom of conscience. They write:
Rome (AsiaNews) – At our reader’s request, AsiaNews has decided to launch an international petition to be sent to President Asif Zardari to save the life of Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to hanging for blasphemy. AsiaNews is also asking President Zardari to cancel or change the unjust blasphemy law, which kills many innocent victims and destroys coexistence in the country. We are asking you to support this initiative by sending a message to the following email:
Or you can send a message directly to the Pakistani President:
This is particularly important. Note the role of pressure from the mob outside the courtroom in the second story posted below. The major question at the heart of this case is: who is in control of Pakistan? By doing nothing, Zardari would acknowledge that he is not in control.
Our campaign is one of many being launched in Italy (with Tv2000), Pakistan, India and the United States.
Asia Bibi, a Christian woman of 45, mother of five children, was sentenced to death for blasphemy on November 7 last. A Punjab court in ruled that the woman, a farm worker, offended the Prophet Mohammed. But in reality, Asia Bibi was first insulted as “impure” (because not-Islamic), then forced to defend her Christian faith in the face of pressure from other Muslim labourers. The husband of one of them, the local imam, decided to launch charges and denounce the woman, who was first beaten, then imprisoned and finally, after one year, sentenced to death.
Asia Bibi and her husband Ashiq Masih have decided to appeal to overturn the ruling. Meanwhile, the mother now faces months of imprisonment at the mercy of prison guards or some fanatic who could kill her under the misguided belief that he is giving glory to Allah.
Up until now, the blasphemy law had not led to an execution of any accused or convicted. But 33 people charged with blasphemy were killed in prison by guards, or in the vicinity of the court. The latest such case involved two Protestant Christians, Pastor Emmanuel and his brother Rashid Sajjad, shot at point blank range as they left the court in Faisalabad on 19 July. However we can group these deaths with those killed in the massacres of entire villages, in Gojra, Korian, Kasur, Sangla Hill, where hundreds of houses belonging to Christians were burned and where women and children were killed or burned alive, just because one member of the village had been accused of blasphemy.
It is now startlingly clear that this law has become a tool in the hands of fundamentalists that pit Muslims against Christians in order to measure the extent of their power over Pakistani society. It is also clear that almost all the accusations of blasphemy are born from envy, revenge, competition, and that the arrest of the accused is but the first step to allow the expropriation of land, looting and theft….
Indeed. Again, the spirit as well as the letter of absurd and inherently abusive laws (of which Sharia has so many) lend themselves to further abuse.
Here, also, Bibi’s own account — she is named here as Asia Noreen — of how the case came about in the first place. Even with the deck so stacked against her, she never got to defend herself in court at any time during her detention and trial — not even as a formality. “Pakistani Mother Condemned for ‘Blasphemy’ Stunned, Shattered,” from Compass Direct, November 18:
… “I don’t know why – when I walked into court that day, I just knew,” she said, tears returning to her eyes and her voice shaking. “And when the judge announced my death sentence, I broke down crying and screaming. In the entire year that I have spent in this jail, I have not been asked even once for my statement in court. Not by the lawyers and not by the judge. After this, I have lost hope in any kind of justice being given to me.”
In an interview with Compass at the jail northwest of Lahore, Punjab Province, Noreen said the triggering incident resulted from a “planned conspiracy” to “teach her a lesson,” as villagers in Ittanwali, near Nankana Sahib about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Lahore, resented her and her family because of a few mishaps.
“What my village people have accused me of is a complete lie,” she said. “I had previously had a row over a trivial issue of water running out of my house onto the street, and a man called Tufail verbally abused me. On June 14, when I was out picking falsas [a type of berry] with about 30 women, they again asked me to convert to Islam.”
Noreen said the women of the village frequently asked her to renounce Christianity while they worked in the fields, and that she refused each time.
“This time, too, I said that I saw no reason why I should leave my own religion,” she said. “They then asked me about Jesus Christ, and I told them to go and ask the local mullah and not to bother me with those questions.”
Meantime, one of the women asked her for water, she said. After she had fetched it, the others told the woman not to drink water brought by an “untouchable” and “dirty woman,” Noreen said.
“I asked them if Christians were not human …why the discrimination?” she said. “This annoyed them, and they started verbally abusing me. We were soon engaged in a heated argument.”
She said that five days later, a mob led by Qari (one who has memorized the Quran) Muhammad Saalim burst upon her after some of the women told him about the incident in the fields. The mob pressured her to admit that she had blasphemed.
“They have been saying that I confessed to my crime, but the fact is that I said I was sorry for any word that I may have said during the argument that may have hurt their feelings,” she said.
Police arrived as they were beating her and took Noreen into custody, where they registered a case under Section 295-C of the blasphemy laws against her based on the complaint of the imam.
“They [police] registered a false complaint, because the complainant [Saalim] was never present at the scene,” she said. […]
“How can an innocent person be accused, have a case in court after a false FIR [First Information Report], and then be given the death sentence, without even once taking into consideration what he or she has to say?”
A pastor from Sharing Life Ministry who has been ministering to Noreen during her confinement and was present at all hearings told Compass that the judge had retired to his chambers three times before announcing the verdict.
“He was visibly tense,” the pastor said. “The presence of a mob outside the courtroom was instrumental in the delivery of this harsh verdict.”