Thursday, November 18, 2010


Asiya Bibi, a Pakistani farm worker and mother of five, fetched water for others working on the farm of a local landlord. Asiya Bibi was refused water because she was a non Muslim [a Christian]. The situation got ugly. Asiya was harassed because of her religion and the matter turned violent. Asiya, alone in a hostile environment, naturally would have attempted to defend herself but was put in police custody for her protection against a crowd that was harming her. However, that protection move turned into one that was to earn Asiya a death sentence.

Michael Nazir-Ali

A Pakistani court has sentenced to death a Christian mother of five for blasphemy, the first such conviction of a woman and sparking protests from rights groups. Asiya Bibi, 45, was sentenced on Monday by a court in Nankana district in Pakistan’s central province Punjab, governed by Sharif Brothers. 
The whole world is deeply shocked and concerned over Asiya Bibi’s death sentence for blasphemy, issued by a local court in Pakistan. Concerned citizens and human rights activists say the case of Asiya Bibi – the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy – highlights the need for urgent repeal of laws that are routinely used to persecute minorities and settle grudges.

Michael Nazir-Ali says, if Pakistan is serious about freedom of speech its blasphemy laws must go.
The daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asiya Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in the Punjab Province of Pakistan.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Cannon says,”Canada continues to call on Pakistan to repeal laws criminalizing blasphemy, which restrict freedom of religion and expression and have disproportionately targeted religious minorities.”
Pakistan Christian Congress leader demanded EU to intervene to repeal blasphemy laws in Pakistan and to press upon government of Pakistan to withdraw false case of blasphemy against Asia Bibi.
The state and other actors must move towards striking off the oft-misused blasphemy laws from the statute books and actively contribute to the ideals of tolerance. (DAWN Editorial)
The Muslim scholar Asghar Ali Engineer accuses the blasphemy law of being un-Islamic and proposes an international campaign. He points his finger at the Pakistani state’s silence and that of many governments around the world.
The All India Christian Council, in a statement, denounced the death sentence and called upon the Indian government to raise the matter with the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Pakistani Government, and with other international bodies.
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been condemned globally from the time these were formulated. They have been misused in particular to persecute Pakistan’s miniscule Christian community, which is subject to acute violence. Christian women in particular have been subject to abduction, forcible conversion, and trafficking,” said the statement.
 Pakistan has crossed a line in passing the death sentence on a woman for blasphemy,” says Andy Dipper, the CEO of human rights organisation Release International.
Human Rights Watch is among the groups that have called for sections 295 and 298 to be scrapped. “Asyia Bibi’s case should serve as a wake-up call to Pakistan’s independent judiciary which urgently needs to address bigotry and incompetence in its ranks and to the government that needs to find the political will to repeal,” said the group’s Pakistan spokesman, Ali Dayan Hasan.
Pakistan Christian Congress PCC and Pakistani Christians Association in North America PCA, leaders decided in a meeting to stage protest in front of United Nations offices in New York on handing over death sentence to Christian women Asia Bibi on accusations of blasphemy by a court in Punjab province of Pakistan.
PCC and PCA will also present a memorandum to Secretary General of UN to intervene and press upon government of Pakistan to immediately release Asia Bibi and to repeal blasphemy law in Pakistan.
Through the efforts of Christian associations, human rights groups, and ordinary citizens, government offices in Pakistan have been flooded in a matter of days with about 40,000 e-mails calling for the liberation of the woman.40,000 e-mails and an anti-blasphemy law petition to save Asiya Bibi
Various Christian organisations and human rights groups in Pakistan have been able to mobilise international support for Asiya Bibi, who has been in jail for the last one year in connection with the crime.
The Church and the Christian communities in Pakistan have at an international level formulated a petition for abolition of blasphemy law, issued a year ago.
Over 75,000 signatures have been collected in Pakistan demanding repeal of the law.
The initiative has crossed national boundaries and has been collected by the Aid to the Church in Need.
In France, the Secretariat has collected and delivered to the French government recently 10.6 million signatures, while the Italian ACS Secretariat in a few weeks reached 1,400 and is preparing to relaunch the petition at the presentation of the 2010 Report on Religious Freedom which will be held on November 24 in Rome.
 Asia’s case dates back to June 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields. But a group of Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim, she should not touch the water bowl.
Beh reha hae Farat sadiyon se
Pani mehnga hae, khon sassta hae..(Nazir Qaiser)
The case originated in Punjab province when a group of female Muslim laborers complained that Bibi had made derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).
Asia was arrested by police on Friday, June 19, and charged with blasphemy. Her family is one of only three Christian families in a village of more than 1,500 families.
Many of the local women, including Asiya, work on the farm of Muslim landowner Muhammad Idrees. During their work many of the Muslim women have pressured Asiya to renounce Christianity and accept Islam.

On June 19, there was an intense discussion among the women about their faith. The Muslim women told Asia about Islam. Upon hearing her rejection the Muslim women became angry and began to beat Asiya Bibi. Then some men came and took her and locked her in a room. They announced from mosque loudspeakers that she would be punished by having her face blackened and being paraded through the village on a donkey.
Local Christians informed the police, who took Asiya into custody before the Muslims could carry out their plan. She is currently being held at the police station in Nankana city. Christians there urged the police not to file blasphemy charges, but police claimed that they must go forward due to the pressure from local Muslim leaders.
Accroding to AFP:  Sentencing her to hang, Judge Naveed Iqbal “totally ruled out” any chance that Ms Bibi was falsely implicated and said there were “no mitigating circumstances”, according to a copy of the verdict.
Ms Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih, 51, said that he would appeal against her death sentence, which needs to be upheld by the Lahore High Court, the highest court in Punjab, before it can be carried out.
“The case is baseless and we will file an appeal,” he said.
The couple has two sons and three daughters.
Human rights activists and minority pressure groups said it was the first time that a woman had been sentenced to hang in Pakistan for blasphemy, although a Muslim couple was jailed for life last year.
Human rights activists want the controversial legislation repealed, saying it is exploited for personal enmity and encourages Islamist extremism.
“The blasphemy law is absolutely obscene and it needs to be repealed in totality,” Human Rights Watch spokesman Ali Dayan Hasan said.
“It is primarily used against vulnerable groups that face social and political discrimination. Heading that category are religious minorities and heterodox Muslim sects,” he said.
About 3 per cent of Pakistan’s population of 167 million is estimated to be non-Muslim.
Last July, two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous pamphlet critical of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were shot dead outside a court in Punjab.

Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his brother Sajjad, were killed as they left a court hearing in Faisalabad city, where hundreds of Muslim protesters had demanded they be sentenced to death.
According to the National Commission on Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church, between 1986 and August 2009, at least 974 people have been charged for defiling the Qur’an or insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). They include 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions.
The blasphemy law has often been used as a pretext for personal attacks or vendettas as well as extra-judicial murders. Overall, 33 people have died this way at the hands of individuals or crazed mobs.
Michael Nazir-Ali writes in his article “Repeal Pakistan’s blasphemy law”
Asiya Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five, is the first woman to have been convicted under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law. But numerous Christians like her and others have been victims of it, either because they have made a comment which has been construed as critical of the prophet of Islam or as a way of settling property and business disputes. Now she has become the first person to be sentenced to death under it.
Did she blaspheme Muhammad (PBUH)? It seems more likely that she angered her tormentors in a theological discussion about the relative merits of Christianity and Islam. Such debates take place all the time among adherents of different faiths. Whichever it may have been, the law has created intolerable injustice for often powerless people and quite unacceptable restrictions on freedom of speech to which the state of Pakistan is committed.
In undivided India, the British had laws which were meant to prevent incitement to religious hatred (yes, that is where this approach was first tried). The penalties, however, were generally moderate and proportional to the offences. Increasing Islamisation in Pakistan has made these laws more and more draconian. Thus there is now a mandatory life sentence for desecrating the Qur’an and a mandatory death sentence for blaspheming the prophet.
We need to know urgently from our Muslim friends whether these laws are really Islamic. The different formal schools of medieval sharia were unanimous that anyone who insults the prophet is to be put to death and differ only about the method of execution. It is this unanimity which has led the federal shariat court to rule that the death penalty is mandatory and left the judges with little discretion in particular cases.
Against this, the Qur’an only threatens those who insult God or the prophet with a curse and a humiliating punishment in this life and the next. It is claimed sometimes that the execution of poets, such as Ka’ab ibn al-Ashraf, for insulting the prophet is a precedent for executing blasphemers. On the other hand, it is said that they were put to death not for blaspheming but for sedition. The Hadith also tells us that while some were punished, others were freely pardoned by Muhammad (S.A.W.W.) himself. The question is, which of these attitudes is to prevail in Muslim nations and communities today?
It may be that a country like Pakistan needs laws to prevent religiously aggravated hatred discrimination. Such laws would be very different from the present ones and would protect religious minorities equally with Muslims.
How can Asiya Bibi and others be saved from the gallows? The blasphemy law is a bad law enacted under pressure from extremists who threaten violence if the government does anything to lessen its impact or to ameliorate the lot of those who have fallen victim to it. A bad law will always come back to haunt us and that is why our ultimate aim must be its repeal. (Source: The Guardian
Source: Originally published in Guardian, cross posted at There are no sunglasses
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