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It's Been 9 Years Since Asia Bibi Was Arrested On Blasphemy Charges For Sharing Water With Muslim Women

Let's not forget.

Zoya Mateen |

Updated:June 19, 2018, 3:16 PM IST
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It's Been 9 Years Since Asia Bibi Was Arrested On Blasphemy Charges For Sharing Water With Muslim Women
The daughters of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in Pakistan's Punjab Province. Standing left to right is Esha, 12, Sidra, 18 and Eshum, 10. (Image: Reuters)
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Nine years ago, in the small village of Ittanwali about 48 kilometers from Lahore, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, shared a bowl of water with farmers. She had been harvesting falsa berries with these farmers.

This set in motion a history of conflict and turmoil for the Christian woman. A conflict erupted because some of the Muslim women on the farm felt it was sacrilegious for Muslims to share the cup with a Christian.

As the exchange between Asia Bibi and the women charged up and turned ill-tempered, the situated escalated to the charge of blasphemy, on account of the allegations made by a few women on the field of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Despite the reported inconsistencies in witness testimonies and fragmented evidence, appallingly, Asia Bibi was arrested, imprisoned and was convicted under the Blasphemy Law of Pakistan and was sentenced to death.

The exact words that led to Bibi’s prosecution under sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code have not been disclosed as this was an accusation of blasphemy, and to repeat the words would be to perpetuate blasphemy.

Since then, the name of this Christian woman, a laborer and mother of five children, has become synonymous with Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.

Several newspapers and human rights advocates reported that she had been paraded on the streets and was also brutally gang-raped in Nankana Sahib, a district in Punjab Province.

Pakistan is notorious for its use of the Blasphemy law, which dates back to the reign of Gen. In 1986, Muhammad Zia ul Haq amended it by adding the clause to punish blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed with "death, or imprisonment for life”.

In 2014, the Lahore High Court upheld her death sentence. Nonetheless, the execution was stayed in July 2015, when the Pakistani Supreme Court agreed to hear her appeal that had to take place in October 2016.

Unfortunately, the appeal had to be adjourned after one of the three judges, Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman, recused himself by quoting a conflict of interest.

Despite international outcry, Asia Bibi has had no success, with the appeal adjourned indefinitely in 2016. Numerous petitions have been filed across the globe and the pleas to stop her execution have received worldwide support.

From human rights activists and organizations to lawyers have criticized her imprisonment and sentence and attacked Pakistan's blasphemy laws calling them the instruments to "settle personal disputes”.

In a 2014 report, Amnesty International condemned the imprisonment of Asia in harsh tones declaring the Blasphemy laws of Pakistan as inconsistent with its international obligations of “to ensure the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.

For years now, people all over the world are trying to seek justice for Asia in their own ways.

In February, Rome’s ancient Colosseum was lit in red as hundreds thronged outside the Roman symbol of martyrdom to condemn the death penalty against Asia and to hear her daughter and husband address the event.

 

Blasphemy carries a maximum penalty of death, yet the law legitimizes no standards for evidence, no necessity to prove intent, no punishment for false allegations and most importantly, indeed, no guidance on what actually constitutes blasphemy.

For nine years now, Asia Bibi has been languishing in prison.

In the first ray of hope for Asia Bibi, last month, a top Pakistani judge  confirmed that she will soon get the opportunity to have her appeal heard at the Pakistani Supreme Court.
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