Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman who has been convicted of blasphemy against the Prophet, under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. Recently a Pakistani government minster Shahbaz Bhatti, a Muslim who had called for reform of the blasphemy laws, was assassinated in a hail of bullets. He was only 42.
It is reported that the blasphemy laws, which provide for the execution of those convicted, are widely mis-used to pursue vendettas and to settle old scores. This appears to be the case with Asia Bibi. According to her, she was involved in a verbal exchange with fellow-villagers, with no reference to Islam or the Prophet, and days later they accused her of blasphemy.
The BBC reports that “The local imam, Qari Mohammed Salim, told us he cried with joy when sentence was passed on Asia Bibi”. This obvious relish by a man of God at the death sentence on a local woman suggests a serious prejudice against minority religions.
My ECR colleague Peter Van Dalen from the Netherlands has been very active in the campaign for justice for Asia Bibi, and he was able to tip me off before a meeting of our South Asia Delegation, attended by the Pakistan Ambassador and a number of Pakistani parliamentarians. The picture above features the delegation leader Mr. Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Mrs. Attiya Inayatullah, both Members of the National Assembly.
I raised the case of Asia Bibi. This required sensitive handling. It would not be right for me to try to pre-judge the appeals process in Pakistan, nor to criticise the Pakistani legal system, nor even to ask the parliamentarians to seek to influence the judicial process. Nonetheless I thought it was right to raise our concern, and to express the hope that justice would be done in this difficult and distressing cases. Our interlocutors from Pakistan stressed their support for democracy, and their concerns over the blasphemy laws in this case. Indeed Mr. Fazlur Rehman had himself been the object of two failed suicide bomb attacks from extremists who consider him too moderate.
Pakistan is a country suffering dreadfully from terrorism, from religious disputes, from border tensions, and of course from natural disasters. Like Asia Bibi, the Pakistani people deserve our good wishes and support.