Aasia Bibi- A Picture of Faith or Misery
By Shahid Khan Four years ago a Christian poor woman, a farm hand and a mother of five was accused of using derogatory words in small village of Ittianwalai in District Shaikupura in Punjab province of Pakistan. Pakistan court gave her death sentence and she is languishing in her prison cell, pending an appeal with fears lurking within the jail as well as outside.
The news of Aasia Bibi accused of blasphemy went around in the world like a wildfire. Loads of articles were penned down and countless campaigns hit the road and on the computers in a favor to release Aasia Bibi and the repeal of Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. Many human rights organizations and activists sprang into action to voice the vice which often engulfs the poor, down-trodden and the venerable fabric of Pakistan’s society.
Background of the Aasia Case
On June 8, 2009 while working on a farm near her village Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, mother of five, found herself into a hot debate over the matter of drinking water from the same glass. The conversation between the women was ignited by religion. The verbal altercation ensued. The atmosphere became tense. With some reporting the village men noosed her into the village because of allegations of insulting to Islam. The day came to end its end but the enmity took its birth on the very day. For Aasia, the introduction to troubles started from that day on until the day of writing these lines. Her endless ordeal began.
After 8 days, the local Muslim cleric along with the three Muslim women went to the local police station to file First Investigation Report (FIR) against Aasia Bibi for using derogatory words against the Prophet Muhammad. Aasia Bibi was taken into police custody on the heresy that she used insulting word
Following was an international outcry, which involved Pope Benedict XVI who also demanded release for Aasia and those who stood against the blatant tyranny and oppression who were brave and tireless advocates for the repeal of blasphemy laws. Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal Minister of Minorities and Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, both were killed for siding with the repeal of Pakistan blasphemy law which has claimed several hundred lives of minorities in Pakistan.
Aasia Bibi became the first woman in the history of Pakistan who has been sentenced to death. She applied for clemency under Article 45 to the president of Pakistan
Travesty of Justice
According to many reports, Aasia Bibi had no access to a fair trial. During her sentence she did not have any access to any solicitor. It is also very disturbing to know that on the day when Pakistani court announced her death sentence, she was not represented by any legal personal. She later told that she was asked to put her thumbprint on a paper. The court did not explain those documents to her neither dedicated anybody to do so.
Generally, the cases which involves Capital Punishment cannot proceed in the court without any legal representation. If the accused does not have any representation, it is the duty of the court to arrange a lawyer for the accused. In Aasia Bibi’s case, neither of them were met.
What makes the matters more complicated for Aasia, is that there are long queues for appeals. It will take years till Aasia’s appeal is heard in the court. There is a five year back log of cases. The High Court is dealing with the appeals which were lodged say, five years ago. The Chief Justice of Pakistan can use his prerogative to prioritize any case although it is highly unlikely in Aasia Bibi’s case which means that she would have to wait years upon years till her appeal is heard.
In the meantime cases like Aasia, languish in the prisons, or become victims of someone’s fury.
Price on Aasia’s Head
Aasia Bibi also has a price over her head. A radical Muslim has promised, 500,000 rupies (around £3,700, $5,800) to the lover of Prophet Muhammed who would kill her. In a country which was founded on the name of religion which harbors more than 180 million Muslims there are countless “Lovers” who are ready to find their chance for the “reward”.
The local Imam, Muhammed Salim told in a report to the CNN that “Her (Aasia Bibi) death sentence was one of the happiest moments of his life, “Tears of joys poured from my eyes” said Muhammed Salim.
There are also threats from different factions of Islam who believe that a anybody who is blasphemous deserves death. There is a sad history of extra- judicial killings in Pakistan. Upon acquittal, there are dangers lurking behind. People driven by hatred and passion for their religion, do not hesitate to take law in their own hands. They often kill people in the police custody.
The two Christian brothers, Rashid Emmanuel (Pastor) and Sajid Emmanuel (Student) were accused of blasphemy, were gunned down while they were coming out of court on 19th July, 2009 in the police custody in handcuffs.
According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan there are more than 45 extra-Judicial killing in Pakistan.
Aasia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih has expressed his concern about the safety of the family to several times. He expressed his fears and concerns several times that he has received threats from different sources. He also appealed to the Government of Spain to help free his wife and grant her Asylum last December during a visit in Spain which was organized by Hazte Oir, a Spanish Catholic campaign group.
Aasia Bibi, is the name of a woman, who stood for her Christian Faith. In the hot and volatile climate of Pakistan where members of minorities fear to express openly if they are a minority in the first place the innocent is pleaded guilty.
Let us reinvigorate ourselves with a steely determination to help free our sister. We hope that you will start a campaign for the release of Aasia Bibi wherever you are by calling for clemency from President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari to pardon Aasia Bibi so that she can reunite with her family.
Otherwise there are too many who are waiting to shoot her including the foreign Minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik who openly said that “He himself will shoot any blasphemer”.
Let us just remember Aasia in our prayers, thoughts, and let us endeavor to stand up against the oppression, tyranny to help unshackle those like Aasia who are bound by the handcuffs and chained by the unjust way of our world. Let us demand the release of Aasia who has become the victim of injustice and who is falling backward in the abyss of hopelessness and darkness with every passing day.