Seven years have now passed since Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi was arrested and imprisoned on blasphemy charges. Nearly one year has passed since the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned her execution sentence and ordered that the evidence against her be re-examined.
She and her family count the days—now totaling 2,558-days in a prison cell. They still wait and long for their family reunion.
British Pakistani Christians Association Director Wilson Chowdhry recently told me that judges and politicians in Pakistan are afraid of doing the right thing in Asia’s case. That’s because militant Muslims have placed them under constant threat of death. Choudhry told the country is basically subjected to “mob rule”--those who make the loudest noise and have the ability to carry out their threats have the greatest influence. Today In Pakistan it’s the Islamic extremists.
What does this mean for Christians?
It reminds me of the 1960’s civil rights struggle here in the United States. Back then, particularly in the southern U.S., African Americans were refused entrance to “white only” public restrooms. Drinking fountains were also segregated. Some were restricted for use by “whites,” while others were designated for “coloreds.” Apparently racists believed restrooms or drinking fountains used by African Americans were unclean.
In Pakistan today, Christians are discriminated against because of their faith. Non-Muslims are viewed as infidels. Asia’s Bibi’s only crime was that she fetched some water from a well and then gave it to her Muslim co-workers. Once delivered, they told her she had tainted the well and the water cups by touching them.
Recently a Pakistani Christian ice cream vendor was severely beaten by Muslims for selling ice cream to Muslim children. He was also viewed as unclean (and so was the ice cream) because of his Christian faith.
Pakistani Christians face this type of discrimination and persecution daily. African Americans have faced adverse treatment because of the color of their skin, Pakistan Christians because of their religion.
And for three decades, many Christians and Muslims have suffered in prison on false charges of blasphemy. The 295 Blasphemy Law is often used to gain an advantage in land disputes, or other personal conflicts.
What can be done to help Asia Bibi?
I talked recently to Joseph Nadeem of the Renaissance Education Foundation. His organization helps Asia’s family. Nadeem and Asia’s husband Ashiq recently visited the United Nations in New York City where they requested help from the global body.
Nadeem said he hopes the visit will increase international pressure to secure the release of Asia Bibi:
And what can be done to change the blasphemy law and antiquated attitudes?
Some Pakistanis ( most of them outside Pakistan) are proposing an amendment to the blasphemy law that would also jail accusers if allegations against the accused are proved to be false. This would deter false charges, but Wilson Chowdhry and Joseph Francis (CLAAS) told me, there’s little chance that such an amendment will be proposed at this time.
Few Pakistani lawmakers want to risk death by advancing such an idea. They don’t want to end up like Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, or Christian MP Shabaz Bhatti. Both men were assassinated because of their stance against the blasphemy law.
It appears few men possessing similar courage remain today in Pakistan.
So, Asia Bibi still wastes away in prison, and Pakistani society is stuck with laws and attitudes based on sharia -- antiquated approaches that hold the nation back--and keep the country from entering the modern world.
And Joseph Nadeem hopes the government will move quickly to re-visit Asia’s case. He asks Christians to keep praying for Asia and her family—also pray for Nadeem’s protection. He's become a target for helping Asia’s family.