Sara Komaiszko, MA Media in Development
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman convicted for blasphemy, was acquitted last month by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The joy over her regained freedom lasted less than 24 hours. Her release caused violent protests on the streets of Islamabad, Lahore and other Pakistani cities, by Muslim communities, with some even demanding for her to be hung.
Bibi, a mother of 5, lived in a rural area 3 kilometres from Lahore, inhabited by 1.5 thousand Muslims and only three Christian families. She worked as a fruit picker. She offended Prophet Mohammed on a hot June day in 2009, by refreshing herself with a glass of water from a communal well that was used by her Muslim neighbours. She also offered some water to her female co-workers. In their opinion, water touched by the Christian turned to be unclean and they demanded her to convert to Islam, but she refused. On the same day after work, she was beaten up by the women in her own house.
The intervention of the police saved her life, but also as an effect, she was arrested for blasphemy and was sentenced to death, spending 8 years in prison before being released.
Her release was demanded by human rights activists worldwide, and both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis called for her to be set free.
“Bibi and her family, who are subjected to violence and are being hunted by Muslim extremists, are now in hiding.”
For Bibi, staying in Pakistan is life-threatening. Nevertheless, the government, pressured by Khadim Hussain Rizvi: the leader of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (an Islamist party that supports blasphemy laws), has put her name on the Exit Control List to prevent her from leaving the country. The question of her destined residence has become an international issue. Bibi and her family, who are subjected to violence and are being hunted by Muslim extremists, are now in hiding. They are staying in a safe house in Pakistan, despite offers of asylum of Western countries like Canada, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Italy or Poland.
Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih has also turned to the British government for help. Despite former foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s (and many other MPs) endorsements, the UK has denied asylum to Asia Bibi, as the government fears a backlash among British Muslims of Pakistani heritage. The Muslim Council of Britain stated in a tweet that ‘’such insinuations’’ are ‘’nonsensical’’ and ‘’divisive’’.
According to Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, there is only one way for Bibi and her family to escape Pakistan. Mulook, himself a Christian, is now staying in Frankfurt as he also had to flee Pakistan due to death threats from Islamists for defending Bibi. Mulook stated: “The whole world is asking why she’s not coming. To leave Pakistan she needs a visa or a passport of another country.’’ He’s been calling upon German Chancellor Angela Merkel to issue passports for Bibi and her family conferring German nationality. “So far, no government has come forward in such an open and free manner”, he said.
Pakistan is known for its inhumane blasphemy laws. Over 60 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their respective trials were over, and some of those who opposed the blasphemy law have been assassinated. Since 1990, a total of 62 people have been killed as a result of blasphemy allegations.
This case has raised the issue of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws on the global stage and the world is still wondering: where is Asia Bibi?
Photo Credits: Creative Commons