Date: August 24, 2016
By: Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman, British Pakistani Christian Association
Pakistani Christians have expressed great joy and fear after receiving news that Asia Bibi, Pakistan's most famous blasphemy law victim, will finally have her long awaited Supreme Court appeal hearing during the second week of October. The Chief Justice of Pakistan ordered the Supreme court to fix a date in October yesterday, BPCA were advised by Asia's solicitor.
Asia Bibi was brutally beaten after drinking water from a well that was specifically for the use of Muslims in highly discriminatory Pakistan. After she offered water from the same well to Muslim co-workers they started to beat Asia, whilst cursing her and her faith. Asia could not bear the insults made against Jesus her Lord, so she simply said 'My Christ died for me what did Muhammed do for you?"
Male co-workers were told about this and Asia Bibi was gang-raped for her alleged crime of blasphemy, she was beaten all the way home where her children were later sexually molested.
Later on the demand of a local Imam, she was imprisoned under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws. Asia has now been incarcerated since June 2009 and has been sentenced to death since November 2010.
Asia Bibi, has always upheld that she will be set free by God's grace even when it has seemed like there was no chance of freedom. After a failed appeal at the Lahore High Court on 16th October 2014, many thought freedom was beyond Asia Bibi. However, in a pre-trial hearing at Pakistan's Supreme Court on 22nd July 2015, the court suspended her death sentence permitting an appeal. In her appeal hearing Asia intends to ask the court to reconsider deficiencies in the case which include poor investigation and manipulated evidence by the local police.
The appeal was originally meant to have been held on March 26 2016, however after the judiciary and Government of Pakistan decided to push through with the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri under anti terrorism laws they were forced to postpone Asia Bibi's appeal hearing.
Mumtaz Qadri had assassinated Salmaan Taseer who was a former Governor of Punjab for his stance calling for abrogation of the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan and freedom for Asia Bibi.
In the wake of Mr Qadri's death a wave of demonstrations, including 100,000 Muslims encamped during a sit in protest outside Government buildings in Islamabad, where they demanded termination of proposed reforms of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan and death for Asia Bibi. The government caved in on the law reforms which had passed through Parliament and were to be ratified in the Senate of Pakistan. Many Christians at this point thought Asia Bibi's luck had run out and that the government had failed her and other minorities - especially when they postponed her case due to the scale of social schism.
However, news of the revised date for the appeal hearing has now induced mixed feelings. Many Pakistani Christians believe the date will be postponed again when the Muslim protests for Asia Bibi's death resume, they still recall the 5 postponements before Asia Bibi had her Lahore High Court Appeal rejected. Moreover, despite their joy and delight that Asia Bibi will have her day in court and a chance for justice, they fear that a community backlash will result in attacks on the innocent Christian communities across the country. Despite their fears every Pakistani Christian stands with Asia Bibi and is praying for her release.
Whilst in prison Asia Bibi has been forced to cook her own food due to attempts to poison her, whist bullying from other inmates has also meant she is forced to stay in isolation. Last year we reported on her failing health.
This Supreme Court hearing will be the final opportunity for Asia Bibi to gain freedom through the country's law courts. Failing this she will have to rely on a presidential pardon under article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which states:
45. President’s power to grant pardon, etc.-The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said:
"Asia Bibi has suffered the Injustice of five years imprisonment for a made up crime. A cultural faux pas and innocuous comment made while being attacked, led to her being raped, her children being sexually molested, and her arrest under the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan for good measure yet no-one else was arrested for the violence to her?
'As a devout Christian she continues to believe God will free her from her ignominious incarceration. She prays daily and has placed her life and her family before God."
Mr Chowdhry berated previous governments for failing to free Asia, he said:
"I have spoken to Pakistani government officials and the judiciary. All of them express great shock at the ongoing abuse of her liberty. Yet Asia's tragedy continues. I have come to the conclusion that all I have been receiving is diplomatic lip service, devoid of passion for justice."
"Asia's story is one of oppression and discrimination and despite international pressure, statutory authorities and the Government of Pakistan have failed her, just as they have failed all minorities in Pakistan."
"Freedom for Asia Bibi would be a a watershed moment in the campaign for justice, equality and freedom for minorities in Pakistan. Previous governments have failed miserably, but I believe the incumbent Government is genuinely attempting to restore the balance. I hope that effective protection is provided to Asia and her family, the judiciary and all persons that could make this latest appeal a success. Any half-hearted approach will undermine Asia's trial and create a further blight on Pakistan's reputation."
BPCA expect a large mob of Muslims baying for the blood of Asia Bibi outside the Supreme court during the hearing, a scene very common to trials of this nature in Pakistan. We are calling on the Pakistani Government to ensure that known ring-leaders are rounded up and prosecuted under the countries incitement to hatred laws.
If these extremist elements are allowed to foment violence against innocent Christians, then it will be the government and security forces that will be to blame. Any community tension must be controlled and attacks curbed by security forces ensuring that innocent Christian communities are protected, during a time when their pariah status is set to reach epic levels.