A female prison officer, assigned to provide security for a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death on “blasphemy” charges, beat her while other staff members deployed for her security looked on in silence. Sources in Pakistan’s Sheikhupura District Jail said Asia Noreen, also known as Asia Bibi, was beaten on Oct. 5 by a prison officer identified only as Khadeeja, allegedly because of the Muslim officer’s anti-Christian bias.
Prison sources said that the Deputy Superintendent of the jail did not initially take any action against Khadeeja for attacking Noreen. Khadeeja was later suspended for three months and an inquiry was opened to investigate her actions after an intelligence agency reported the matter to the Punjab Province government. The Home Department also sent a senior police official to Sheikhupura District Jail to investigate, and he recommended Khadeeja’s immediate removal from service, sources said.
Based on communications with jail staff members, a source told Compass News, that Noreen had not received any life-threatening injuries. But after the attack jail personnel had apparently pressured Asia Bibi and her husband to refrain from telling anyone about the incident. Asia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, was told that if he told anyone he would lose his visiting privileges. “It seems that Ashiq has been pressured by the jail authorities to say that Khadeeja did not attack Asia,” the source said. “Why would the jail superintendent suspend Khadeeja for three months, and why would the inquiry officer recommend her removal from service, if she just ‘got angry with Asia’ over a minor issue?”
The source said that two false versions of the incident were circulating in the jail. Some staff members claimed that Khadeeja had asked Noreen to let her use the cell washroom and beat her when she refused, while others said that the guard had objected to the presence of some “prohibited articles” in Noreen’s possession and thrashed her when she refused to give them up.
“Both versions of the incident are absurd,” the source said. “Why did Khadeeja want to use the prisoner’s washroom when she could have gone to the staff restrooms? Asia’s the prisoner, not Khadeeja. ” He added that the beating clearly showed the anti-Christian motive of the prison officer.
“The jail authorities are trying their best to hush up the matter as soon as possible, as it is a big embarrassment to the government,” he said.
While reluctant to admit that the Muslim prison officer had beaten Noreen, a jail official acknowledged that Noreen had struck back in self-defense. Though adamant that Noreen was safe in custody, he said the incident had negatively affected her security and authorities were considering transferring her to another prison.
“It was an unfortunate incident, as we had been keeping Asia’s location secret for the last many months, but this episode has blown our cover,” a senior jail officer requesting anonymity told Compass. “We made the best possible arrangements for her security. She is kept in a separate cell with a closed circuit camera to monitor her security round-the-clock. More than 10 wardens have been especially deployed around her barrack. She has been strictly forbidden from eating anything offered by any unauthorized personnel. Asia is safe in our custody, and all possible efforts will be made to ensure her security.”
The source said the attack reminded him that former Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer, who along with Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was rallying for Noreen’s release, was killed by his own security guard. Bhatti also was later slain for defending Noreen and opposing the blasphemy laws.
Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who murdered Taseer for his defense of Noreen and efforts to revise the blasphemy laws, was sentenced to death this month. After protests by Muslims in the street as well as by high-level Islamists, however, the judge who sentenced Qadri, Pervez Ali Shah, was removed from his post by the Lahore High Court.
The Rawalpindi Bar Association had threatened a nationwide strike if Shah was not suspended or transferred within five days. The Islamabad High Court has agreed to consider Qadri’s appeal of his verdict, thus suspending his death sentence until a ruling is made.
Father, thank you for sparing Asia Noreen’s life and we ask today that you heal the wounds inflicted in this beating and restore her back to full health. Father, we often see imprisonment as a punishment, but we know that You can turn even the most difficult circumstances into blessings. Father fill Asia, and her family, with peace and the knowledge that You are in control. And we ask the same for the Christian community in Pakistan, Father, be with them as they struggle in the midst of the difficulties that surround them. Lord Jesus, we are on our knees for the nation of Pakistan. Amen