We have not had an update on Asia Bibi in a while, but she remains in a Pakistani prison, unjustly sentenced to death for blasphemy charges brought in retribution for her defending her Christian beliefs and refusing to convert to Islam. The law is inherently abusive, and only lends itself to further abuses.
Barack Obama should know the name of Asia Bibi. Every member of Congress should know her name. Every prospective presidential candidate should know her name. Her case is emblematic of all that is wrong with our “friend and ally” Pakistan. Future aid to Pakistan should be tied to her release, along with all similar prisoners of conscience, with substantive pressure applied to Pakistan to secure the release of all captive women and girls forced to convert to Islam — a “common practice,” according to the Bishop of Islamabad.
“ASIA/PAKISTAN – Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by a court “influenced by Islamic extremists’ and ‘without a lawyer’,” from Agenzia Fides, September 15:
Lahore (Agenzia Fides) – There is more than a shadow on the case of Asia Bibi, a 40-year old Christian woman, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Asia was judged by a court “under the obvious pressure of Islamic extremists”, and “for personal vendetta”. In addition there is an obvious procedural irregularity: during the investigations and preliminary interrogations, conducted by the police after the complaint, Asia did not have a lawyer: for this reason the whole trial could be invalidated. This is what is stated in a note sent to Fides by the influential Muslim study Centre “Jinnah Institute” in Karachi. Named after the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the institute is a “think tank” composed of Muslim intellectuals and chaired by the parliamentary Sherry Rehman. She carries out her research in the field of law, human rights, rule of law and promotes the establishment of a democratic and secular Pakistan, as desired by Ali Jinnah.
The note by the “Jinnah Institute” on Asia Bibi brings attention to the case of the woman who for over a year languishes in the prisons in Sheikhupura in Punjab. Even Pope Benedict XVI launched an appeal for her release in November 2010. The lawyer, now guaranteed by the “Masihi Foundation” – who has taken charge of her case – is preparing the application for appeal to the High Court, but there is also the possibility of presidential forgiveness. Her story is behind the murders of Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, and Shabhaz Bhatti, federal Minister for religious minorities, who had defended her.
The government subsequently tried to rewrite the official story on the circumstances of Bhatti’s murder, but appears to have backtracked for the moment, because no one was buying it.
The Jinnah Institute reports that from the outset, Asia Bibi’s court case was marred by irregularities and manipulations. The “National Commission on the Status of Women”, after a meeting with Asia Bibi in jail, found that “only 8 days after the alleged incident – in which Asia pronounced blasphemous sentences – Qari Muhammad Salim, a local Muslim religious leader, using three women as witnesses, was able to register an official First Information Report FIR on the basis of which Asia was arrested”. During the 8 days allegations against Asia had been orchestrated. These suspicious circumstances – note the Jinnah Institute – are described in the Report written by Shabhaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer and delivered to the President of Pakistan, Ali Zardari. The Report highlights that “the judge sentenced her due to pressures by Islamic extremists, ignoring the true facts”.
These pressures are deleterious to the system, notes The Jinnah Institute, recalling the murder of the Lahore High Court judge, Arif Iqbal Bhatti, who was killed in 1997 when he issued an acquittal towards two Christian boys, Salamat and Rehmat Masih, sentenced to death for blasphemy in 1995 by a court of first instance. In addition, during the period of investigation and interrogation before the trial, Asia Bibi had not been granted the right, enshrined in the constitution, of legal assistance: a serious matter, sufficient to invalidate the verdict.