‘There are many others’—Asia Bibi calls for justice for victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

September 4, 2019 by Lindy Lowry in Asia

Nearly four months after Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi finally left Pakistan, the wife and mother is now speaking out for those enduring the same ordeal she faced for more than eight years on death row.

From a secret location in Canada where she now lives with her daughters, Bibi sent a series of voice messages to British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph. In her interview, she vehemently asked the world to take notice and listen to those who, like she was, are falsely accused and convicted of violating Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. Others need fair trials, as well, she said.

“There are many other cases where the accused are lying in jail for years and their decision should also be done on merit. The world should listen to them.”

The 54-year-old woman, whose formal name is Aasiya Noreen, shared specific thoughts about the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy law that stole almost a decade of her life.

“I request the whole world to pay attention to this issue,” she said. “The way any person is alleged of blasphemy without any proper investigation without any proper proof, that should be noticed. This blasphemy law should be reviewed and there should be proper investigation mechanisms while applying this law. We should not consider anyone sinful for this act without any proof.”

Learn why Pakistan is the fifth most dangerous country for Christians.

What do Pakistan’s blasphemy laws say?

Throughout Pakistan, the harsh blasphemy laws are misused to seize property, settle personal vendettas, silence opposition and discriminate against Christians and other religious minorities. The laws were created and expanded in several phases throughout the ‘80s. In 1980, derogatory remarks against Islamic personages become an offense. Two years later, another clause prescribed life imprisonment for “willful” desecration of the Koran, the Muslim holy book. In 1986, a separate clause was added to punish blasphemy against the Muslim Prophet Muhammed; the recommended penalty was death or life imprisonment.

The other Asia Bibis

The US State Department says an estimated 77 others are in prison in Pakistan under blasphemy laws, most of them Muslims. Legally, the charge can carry the death penalty but before any legal action, the situation can quickly escalate as mobs gather to retaliate against anyone accused of blasphemy against Islam.

Case in point. In 2014, a Christian couple was accused of blasphemy and fell into the hands of an angry and violent mob. The couple was beaten for alleged blasphemy and then thrown into the brick kiln where they worked in Punjab province near Lahore.

It is the same region where a Christian couple was accused of blasphemy five years ago. Shagufta Kausar and her husband, Shafat Masi, have been on death row since 2014 for allegedly texting blasphemous messages. The couple has been waiting for five years for their appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court.

And the fact that Kausar, a mother of four, is reportedly imprisoned in the same cell in Multan Women jail, where Bibi was kept for many years, drives home Bibi’s global call to take notice of others walking through the same nightmare today that she lived for eight years.

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‘My whole life suffered’

Bibi also shared about the toll the blasphemy law took on her and her family—giving insight into the devastation of others falsely accused and on death row.

“My whole life suffered, my children suffered and this had a huge impact on my life,” she said. “Sometimes I was so disappointed and losing courage I used to wonder whether I was coming out of jail or not, what would happen next, whether I would remain here all my life.”

When Bibi went to prison, her daughters were young girls; now they are grown women.

After Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her in October 2018, Pakistan erupted in protests from hardliner Muslim groups who called for her execution and even the deaths of Supreme Court judges. After the acquittal, she was flown from prison and kept in protective government custody.

She and her husband Ashiq Masih were kept in government safe houses first in the hills outside the capital city of Islamabad and then in the port city of Karachi. They were given a television and a smartphone but were not allowed to go outside.

In June 2018, Bibi finally flew to an undisclosed location in Canada to meet her daughters where she landed safely and has been living over the last four months. Reportedly, in the coming months, Bibi is hoping to relocate to an undisclosed country in Europe that has granted her and her family asylum.

Specific ways to pray with your brothers and sisters in Pakistan

Pray for Pakistani converts from Muslim backgrounds who suffer the brunt of the persecution in Pakistan. Radical Islamist groups see them as apostates, and their family, friends and neighbors see their conversion as shameful to the community.

Pray for Christians accused under blasphemy laws, that they would not face violence or mob “justice” and that they would stand strong in the midst of great risk.

An estimated 700 girls and women are abducted each year. They are often raped and then forcefully married to Muslim men in the community. This usually results in forced conversions. Please pray protection over Christian women and girls in Pakistan.

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