Consider this: since 1987 Pakistan’s National Commission for Justice and Peace have recorded a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus accused of blasphemy offences. The latter three groups comprise only 3% of Pakistan’s population, but half of all the charges.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been used to fuel a climate of religiously motivated violence. On many occasions, once mere allegations of blasphemy are made persecution starts even before the formal opening of legal action. Those accused and their families as well as their homes, neighbourhoods and places of worship, have been attacked, sometimes even burned to the ground.
Asia, an illiterate Catholic farm worker is the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. The incident occurred June 2009 after a row with her co-workers. Bibi had drawn water from a well whilst at work harvesting berries.
As a Christian she was accused of making the cup she had used unclean by drinking from it.
An argument ensued with the women who accused her of insulting the Prophet Mohammed – it’s a charge she firmly denies. She was sentenced in November that year, based entirely on the testimony of her co-workers.
She remembers sentence being passed:
“I cried alone, putting my head in my hands. I can no longer bear the sight of people full of hatred, applauding the killing of a poor farm worker. I no longer see them, but I still hear them, the crowd who gave the judge a standing ovation, saying: ‘Kill her, kill her! Allahuakbar!’ … I was then thrown like an old rubbish sack into the van.”
Religious and political leaders around the world have spoken out about the case, including Pope Benedict. One petition gathered 400,000 signatures.
However within Pakistan opinions are divided and passionately held. The Christian minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti and the Muslim politician Salmaan Taseer were both assassinated after speaking up on Bibi’s behalf.
Asia Bibi is still in prison – her appeal is due to be heard by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, but it has been repeatedly delayed, leaving her in prison for seven years, waiting to discover her final fate. Her family are still in hiding, fearing for their own lives.
Asia Bibi is still in prison – her appeal was due to be heard by Pakistan’s Supreme Court in October 2016, but has been delayed again. Her family are still in hiding, fearing for their own lives. All this based on the testimony of the women she argued with.
“The influence of a given religion in a nation ought never to mean that citizens of another religion can be subject to discrimination in social life or, even worse, that violence against them can be tolerated.”
- Pope Emeritus Benedict
“There is a very clear sense that people are nervous about the misuse of the blasphemy law, as a tool of politics or “…a mob thing […] ” he added, flanked by two Pakistani bishops. He earlier told reporters: “Equality under the law is important…”
- Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
“The law for punishing blasphemy against the Prophet (sws) that is invoked in Pakistan has no foundation in the Qur'ān or Hadith.”
- Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, Renowned Quranic scholar & Islamic modernist theologist