Does Pakistan think it makes its Islamic republic look strong and powerful to persecute this woman and reduce her to this state? Quite to the contrary, it conveys a sense of fear, both that Islam cannot stand on its own merits in the free market of ideas, and of angering violent Islamic supremacists who may turn on the state that has allowed them to run amok.
As with the recent roundup of Ethiopian Christians in Saudi Arabia, Pakistani authorities’ display of power here is ultimately a display of weakness.
“Christmas in prison for Asia Bibi, sentenced to death for blasphemy,” by Jibran Khan for Asia News, December 20:
Islamabad (AsiaNews) — Her only hope for the future is to return to her family, to embrace her daughters, so she asks for our prayers while praying that other “brothers and sisters” will not go to prison on false charges of blasphemy. It will be another Christmas in jail, away from her loved ones, for Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five children, locked in the women’s prison Sheikpura (Punjab), sentenced to death by the ” black law” pending appeal, still awaiting for the High Court of Lahore to set a date. Yesterday a delegation of the International Masihi Foundation, an NGO that deals with the legal protection of women, visited her to exchange greetings on the eve of the festive season. And for the first time since the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who was killed by his bodyguard in January last year, Asia has found herself before a large group of people so far, in fact, she could only speak with her husband and the lawyer during the weekly interview with relatives.
It was Taseer who called the law a “black law” before he was assassinated.
In her isolation cell, looking tired and aged, beyond her 46 years, fragile and very weak, she can barely stand up. Entering the room reserved for meetings escorted by two guards, she appears confused and her eyes run from right to left for the duration of the meeting, about 2 hours and 20 minutes, with alternating emotions ranging from tears to laughter, as well as long periods of silence. Her voice is weak, for the first 10 minutes she can not figure out if the members of the delegation are “friends or enemies.” She stops talking when a prison guard enters the room and when they ask how she is treated by the prison authorities she looks away, as if she had not heard the question and closes in a stubborn silence.
Our AsiaNews correspondent attended the meeting with Asia Bibi and spoke with her. Here, below, the responses of a woman who – even in a situation of extreme difficulty –has not lost hope and her desire to fight for her freedom and for her family.
Asia Bibi, on the eve of Christmas, what are your hopes and expectations?
I will answer honestly, I do not know. What do you think will happen? I continue to pray and fast for my family. I wish with all my being to be with my family. I want to hug my daughters. And I still cherish the hope that one day I will be freed.
What message would you like to give to Pakistani Christians and those around the world who pray for you?
Please continue to pray for my return to my family. And I am immensely grateful for the prayers.
Do you have a special day, which breaks the daily monotony of prison?
I lost all sense of celebration, the only day I know, hate and – unfortunately – remember clearly is June 9, the darkest and most painful day of my life when I was arrested. I would not wish even my worst enemy to suffer what I myself have had to endure, what both I and my family have experienced since that terrible June 9. For us it was a nightmare and from then on I lost track of time. In prison you lose track of time, time, day, month. I am illiterate and do not enjoy special concessions in prison, the only thing I can do is participate in Sunday school lessons.
Have you forgiven the people who caused your arrest?
At first no, I could not. And how could I ? [She says this with great anger and then, almost sinks breathing heavily] Although illiterate, I remain deeply Christian and my religion has taught me the value of forgiveness. [she smiles …] At first, when I was thrown into prison, I was angry and meditated revenge, because I had been ripped from my family. Then I started to pray and fast and it may seem strange, I have noticed that I have forgiven those people who charged me with blasphemy. This is a chapter in my life that I would love to shut behind me and forget.
What do you think of the situation of Christians in Pakistan?
[His [sic] face darkens, then suddenly she begins to speak quietly …] How many more brothers and sisters are still unjustly accused … will be mistreated, abused, defendants in mock trials as happened to me.
Asia Bibi understands that the meeting is about to end and seems terrified to see friends leave. “When will you come back again to see me?” And then she asks those present: “What will you do now?”. Her voice rises to a pitch, like a cry for help … “When will I be released …”