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“No one will let her live, the mullahs are saying they will kill her when she comes out”, a BBC report on Asia Bibi

“No one will let her live. The mullahs are saying they will kill her when she comes out.”
And Chief Justice Justice Khwaja Sharif of the Lahore High Court barred the government from introducing any change in the blasphemy law.

Thousands of religious extremists gathered in Islamabad on Sunday, warning the federal government not to touch the country’s blasphemy laws or to pardon Asia Bibi on death row for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Mohammed[PBUH]. The case of Asia Bibi has triggered considerable debate in overwhelmingly Muslim[majority]country, where the federal government has been finding it difficult to confront hard-line elements such as the fundamentalist cleric who has offered a reward to anyone who murders her.

Adding to the concerns for her safety, Yousuf Qureshi, imam of the largest mosque in Peshawar, told a rally Friday that his mosque would give 500,000 rupees (about $5,800) to anyone who kills Bibi. He also warned the government not to tamper with blasphemy laws which he said protect Prophet Mohammed(PBUH)’s “sanctity.”

Jamaat e Islami (JI), right wing religious party which last week announced countrywide protests against any attempt to amend the blasphemy law, mounted a sit-in demonstration near parliament in Islamabad Sunday to make its point, along with broader calls for the government to abandon its alliance with the United States. JI chief Munawar Hasan earlier told Pakistani reporters the government had to decide whether it stood with Muslims or with “the blasphemers.” Other Islamist groups have also threatened violent consequences should Bibi be pardoned.

Qureshi’s public incitement to murder sparked some criticism in Pakistani media, but no sign of any law enforcement action or investigation. Article 506 of the Pakistan penal code outlaws “criminal intimidation,” and in cases where death is threatened the standard applicable two-year prison term rises to seven. Minorities minister earlier submitted a report to the President Zardari saying his investigations into the case found Bibi to be innocent.

The following news story, compiled from BBC News Website.

Ashiq Masih has the look of a hunted man – gaunt, anxious and exhausted.

Though he is guilty of nothing, this Pakistani labourer is on the run – with his five children. His wife, Asia Bibi, has been sentenced to death for blaspheming against Islam. That is enough to make the entire family a target. They stay hidden by day, so we met them after dark.

Mr Masih told us they move constantly, trying to stay one step ahead of the anonymous callers who have been menacing them.

“I ask who they are, but they refuse to tell me,” he said.

“They say ‘we’ll deal with you if we get our hands on you’. Now everyone knows about us, so I am hiding my kids here and there. I don’t allow them to go out. Anyone can harm them,” he added.

Ashiq Masih says his daughters still cry for their mother and ask if she will be home in time for Christmas. He insists that Asia Bibi is innocent and will be freed, but he worries about what will happen next.

“When she comes out, how she can live safely?” he asks.

A radical cleric has promised 500,000 Pakistani rupees (£3,700; US$5,800) to anyone prepared to “finish her”. He suggested that the Taliban might be happy to do it.

Asia Bibi’s troubles began in June 2009 in her village, Ittan Wali, a patchwork of lush fields and dusty streets. Hers was the only Christian household. She was picking berries alongside local Muslim women, when a row developed over sharing water. Days later, the women claimed she had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. Soon, Asia Bibi was being pursued by a mob.

“In the village they tried to put a noose around my neck, so that they could kill me,” she said in a brief appearance outside her jail cell.

Asia Bibi says she was falsely accused to settle an old score. That is often the case with the blasphemy law, critics say. At the village mosque, we found no mercy for her.

The imam, Qari Mohammed Salim, told us he cried with joy when sentence was passed on Asia Bibi. He helped to bring the case against her and says she will be made to pay, one way or the other.

“If the law punishes someone for blasphemy, and that person is pardoned, then we will also take the law in our hands,” he said.

In Pakistan, Islamic parties have been out on the streets, threatening anarchy if she is freed, or if there is any attempt to amend the blasphemy law.

Under Pakistan’s penal code, anyone who “defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet” can be punished by death or life imprisonment. Death sentences have always been overturned on appeal.

Human right groups and Christian organisations want the law abolished.

“It was designed as an instrument of persecution,” says Ali Hasan Dayan, of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan. “It’s discriminatory and abusive.”

While most of those charged under the law are Muslims, campaigners say it is an easy tool for targeting minorities, in this overwhelmingly Muslim state.

“It is a hanging sword on the neck of all minorities, especially Christians,” says Shahzad Kamran, of the Sharing Life Ministry, which ministers to prisoners, including Asia Bibi.

“In our churches, homes and workplaces we feel fear,” he says.

“It’s very easy to make this accusation because of a grudge, or for revenge. Anyone can accuse you. Even our little children are afraid that if they say something wrong at school, they will be charged with blasphemy.”

‘No compromise’

Asia Bibi’s story has sparked a public debate in Pakistan about reforming the law, but it is a touchy – and risky – subject which many politicians would prefer to ignore. Campaigners fear that the talk about reform of the blasphemy laws will amount to no more than that. When Pakistan’s Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, raised the issue six months ago, he was threatened with death.

“I was told I could be beheaded if I proposed any change,” he told us.

‘Electric shock’
Thirty-four people connected with blasphemy cases have been killed since the law was hardened in 1986, according to Pakistan’s Justice and Peace Commission, a Catholic campaign group.

In a neglected graveyard by a railway track in the city of Faisalabad, we found two of the latest victims of the blasphemy law.

They are brothers, buried side by side, together in death, as they were in life. Rashid Emmanuel was a pastor. His brother, Sajid, was an MBA student. They were gunned down in July during their trial – inside a courthouse, in handcuffs and in police custody. Relatives, who asked not to be identified, said the blasphemy charges were brought because of a land dispute.

After the killings, the extended family had to leave home and move to another city. They say they will be moving again soon.

“We don’t feel safe,” one relative told us.

“We are shocked, like an electric shock. We are going from one place to another to defend ourselves, and secure our family members.”

Once a month they come to the cemetery to pray at the graves of their lost loved ones. They are too frightened to visit more often. They bow their heads and mourn for two men who they say were killed for nothing – except being Christian.

About the author

Junaid Qaiser


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  • Aasia Bibi and Impurities in the Land of the Pure

    – by Manzer Munir

    The case of Aasia Noreen aka Aasia Bibi illustrates how far Pakistan has to go to secure freedoms for its religious minorities. Christians and Hindus are not the only minorities who are persecuted for their beliefs but it is also Muslim minorities such as the Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Shiites who are routinely harassed, discriminated and also killed. Sadly, it is the case of Aasia Bibi that has brought some much needed attention to Pakistan’s sad state of affairs towards the treatment of its religious minorities. Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code consist of its blasphemy laws and of all the Muslim countries of the world that have anti-blasphemy laws, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are by far the strictest. There is section 295 that forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Then there is section 295-A that “forbids outraging religious feelings.” There is also 295-B which prohibits defiling the Qu’ran and was originally punishable by life imprisonment but has since been amended to up to three years imprisonment. No section of the blasphemy law is more controversial or harder to prove than Article 295-C, the law that Aasia Bibi is allegedly charged with having broken. In respect to prophet Muhammad, this statute states that ” Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.” Aasia’s case and charges against her started almost a year and a half ago when there was a quarrel over a bowl of water in a dusty village in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of women were working the fields in the heat of the Pakistani sun when one of them, Aasia Bibi, dipped her glass in the communal bucket of drinking water to fetch herself and others a glass of water to drink and immediately was rebuffed by the other women who claimed that the water was now unclean as it had been touched by a non-Muslim. According to witnesses, instead of quietly bowing her head and taking the indignities, Aasia’s crime was that she mounted a strong defense of her faith and remained steadfast in her demeanor that she did nothing wrong. Too often in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws are used against religious minorities to settle personal vendettas and old scores according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group monitoring the case. The news traveled fast in Aasia’s village of Ittan Wali, in Punjab’s Sheikhupura district that a Christian woman had insulted the prophet. The local mullah got on the mosque loudspeakers, urging the “faithful” to take action against Aasia Bibi. In sad but familiar pattern, her defense of her faith was somehow twisted into an accusation of blasphemy, according to her family and others familiar with the case. Soon as a mob gathered outside her home ready to take the law into their own hands and handing out vigilante justice, the police moved in and took her into custody. But instead of protecting her, they charged her with insulting Islam and its prophet under the blasphemy laws. And then on Nov. 8, after suffering 18 months in prison, Aasia Bibi was sentenced to death by a district court, making her the first person to be handed the death penalty in Pakistan under the blasphemy laws. Many before her over the years have been charged, but punishment had been commuted to lesser penalties than the death sentence imposed on Aasia Bibi. No concrete evidence was ever presented against Aasia, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch. Instead, the district judge relied on the testimonies of three other women, all of whom were hostile towards her. Unfortunately this is a common insult hurled at many of Pakistan’s 2 million Muslims who make up just 1.59% of the total population. Often, Christians in Pakistan are discriminated and persecuted and many times only get the lowest of the low jobs such as street sweepers, janitorial and sanitation workers. In fact, in Pakistan, the term ‘Chura‘ has become synonym with the Christian community as it relates to an unclean person akin to how the untouchables or Dalit community is seen in India. In India however, the Dalits are not subjected to arcane state blasphemy laws geared towards religious minorities as in Pakistan or are threatened with their lives at the hands of the Hindu majority. As discussed in a couple of my previous articles, Taliban 1o1, History and Origins and Taliban 201, The Rise of the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamization of Pakistan started under the late General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan who took over the leadership of the country through a military coup in 1977 when he hung the deposed and democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Earlier in 1973, the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan had declared that “Islam shall be the religion of the Pakistan” and had systematically begun the process of restricting the participation of religious minorities in government and politics. Before General Zia, there were only two reported cases of blasphemy. Since the death sentence was inserted in 1986 into the Penal Code for the blasphemy laws, this number has now reached 962 — including 340 members of the Ahmadi Muslim community, 119 Christians, and 14 Hindus. A close examination of the cases reveals the blasphemy laws are often invoked to settle personal scores, or they are used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities, sadly with the help of the state under these laws. General Zia began this policy of Islamization of Pakistan in conjunction with his support for the war against the Russians and assistance to the Afghan Mujahedeen as well as the building of thousands of madrassahs or religious schools across Afghanistan and Pakistan which nurtured the young men into what later became the Taliban. Many of these blasphemy laws fully came into being under his reign, although some were around since as early as more than 100 years prior when the British drew up the Indian Penal Code of 1860 which was initially an ill foreseen aim at keeping the peace among the many fractured faiths of the subcontinent. For instance, section 295-A, which “forbids outraging religious feelings”, could have been applied against a Muslim who insulted a Hindu or a Hindu who taunted a Sikh or Christian or vice versa. However under Zia, the blasphemy laws were expanded and almost exclusively applied against Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadis, Islamilis and Shiites as well as against the Christian and Hindu populations. Recently, a religious ‘leader’ came out and has offered over $6000 to anyone who can kill Aasia Bibi while she awaits her punishment in police custody. Outrage and denunciations on this case are coming from across the world as many people are appalled at the sad state of rights for religious minorities in Pakistan. The Pope has intervened also asking for clemency for Aasia Bibi from Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Against all manner of reason and justice, Lahore’s High Court recently issued an order on November 29, 2o1o, preventing Zardari from exercising his constitutional authority to pardon Aasia Bibi. In a country rife with violence and chaos and one that has become synonymous with terror the world over, the case of Aasia Bibi is yet another dark stain on the country’s image around the world. The Taliban and the extremist groups ravaging Pakistan can be explained as being a violent minority and do not and should not reflect on the nation as a whole as the majority of people in Pakistan are opposed to them and their views of Islam. But the blasphemy laws, for as long as they have stayed on the books in Pakistan and in the constitution, cannot and should not be excused in any shape or form. These laws need to be repealed and the constitution needs to be amended in an emergency manner so that Aasia Bibi and other religious minority citizens of Pakistan are not subjected to cruel and subjective laws that are almost exclusively used against minorities to settle scores, personal vendettas, and instill terror in less than 3 percent of the country that is not part of the religious majority of Sunni Muslims. There needs to be international pressure placed on Pakistan from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and others to modify the constitution immediately and to pardon this 45 year old mother of two children. It is ironic that in a country where many people sympathize with Osama’s Al Qaeda and profess to hate the west with one hand, they decry with the other why not enough western aid has came to their country when it recently saw the worst flooding in its history. Can you blame the American citizens, the Europeans or citizens of any other Christian nation from hesitating to give aid to a country that not only plays a duplicitous game when it comes to terrorists and terror havens but also treats Christians and other religious minorities in the manner as in the case of Aasia Bibi? The name Pakistan literally translates into “The Land of the Pure”. And as a child growing up I was told that the meaning of Pakistan’s flag is this: “The green is a traditional Islamic color and the crescent moon and star are also Islamic symbols. The white stripe represents the non-Muslim minority and religious groups of Pakistan and there place in the country.” In my view, as long as the nation sanctions and tolerates these utterly unjust and biased blasphemy laws, the religious minorities of Pakistan clearly have no place in this land of the ‘pure’.

  • yeh saza ki haqdaar hai aur iske sath sath yeh zardari jo uski appeal per court ka faisla rad krne chla aur uske pithoo ppp k tmam rehnuma jnhon ne is jurm ka irtkab krne wale ka sath dia in sab ko saza milni chahea aur inhe saray bazar sir dhar se alag kr dna chahea

  • jo yeh baat krte hain k hm ne is mulk ko constitution dia aj wohi is constitution mai tabdeeli kr rhe hain aur woh bhe aik pop k kehne per kia hukumat itna bhe nahe kr skti aik christian k lea sb jo yeh insaniyat ka maamla dkhta hai aur us aafia siddique k lea in begherton ko insaniyat yaad nahe aty jb k woh bekasoor hai zardari aur ppp k rehnumaon aur pakistan ki dusri parties k rehnumao Allah tmhe nist naboot kre aur jahanum raseed kre tm nabi meharbaan (s.a.w) k mujrim ho tmhe allah akhrat mai to saza dyga aur inshallah tmhe dunia mai bhe gharat krega

  • shame on you daniyal, cyber terrorist, you will soon rot in jail in this life and in hell in the hereafter. Inshallah.

  • Minorities in Pakistan are living in terror

    Those who always cry hoarse on Kashmir regarding violations of human rights and shed crocodile tears should also pay heed towards how minorities in Pakistan are being treated. Pakistan has a medieval ears law Blasphemous Act and under this act a mother of five children Asia Bibi has been given death sentence and so called saviours of human rights are silent. This is not the first instance when a non-Muslim has been punished under barbaric law. In 1994, a Christian youth Salamat Masih was punished under this act and this had attracted worldwide attraction.

    This barbaric law was enacted during regime of Jia-ul-Haq and initially punishment was confined to life imprisonment only which was later increased to death sentence during Nawaj Sharif’s tenure in 1992. Under this act if any non-Muslim criticises Mohammad Sahib or Islam, he will be given death sentence. However, if any Muslim criticises other religions and their scriptures such as Guru Granth Sahib or Gita or Bible; he cannot be punished. In this way this act is discriminatory in nature and this law is being used to harass minorities in Pakistan for the last two decades.

    Extremists and fanatics have warned Pakistan establishment if it tries to tamper with the law. They have deep influence in army and in administration. Christians are largest minority community in Pakistan and they are economically deprived sections. In Karachi during 2009, a section of Taliban sponsored extremists attacked on Christian settlement and killed many innocent people. They threatened him to accept Islam or be ready to embrace death. These extremists wanted to have Islamic Sharia Act to be implemented in whole of the Sindh.

    Pakistan that had come on the name of religion, has completely failed. Minorities are constantly living under the shadow of guns and terror. Extremists Taliban wants to impose Islam at any cost. However, Vatican is silent. On the other hand whenever some stray incident takes place in India, they immediately intervene. Reality is that Hindu in India has been much tolerant and RSS, too, had good opinion about Christians. Such leaders who leaves no stone unturned should take leaf from Pakistan and should stop their activities.

    It is the demand of hour that Vatican and other European nations should raise the issue of human rights violations of Christians in Pakistan. They should act fast to improve the economic status of Christians in the country. Most of the Christians in Pakistan belong to dalits and they had been converted during British era. Scotland church in 1855 had played pivotal role in converting untouchable ‘Chudas’ into Christianity. To convert them in to Christianity, Britishers had established a regiment as Chudas opposed their conversion. Chudas were considered martial tribes as mahars. Missionaries settled these converted Christians in Sialkot, Faisalabad, Islamabad, Multan, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Kota, Rawalpindi, and Hyderabad. After formation of Pakistan these Christians preferred to leave where they were living. However, their conditions are deplorable and are living in pathetic conditions.

    It is not only Christians who are on target even Hindus are being targeted every now and then. Their number has halved after independence in 1947. Even those Muslims who opted to go to Pakistan from Bihar and other parts of India were not accepted. They are called mohajirs. It is irony that Mohammad Ali Jinna, father of nation of Pakistan, was mohajir. However, to save their existence mohair’s had to raise political establishment like ‘Mohajir Quomi Movement’. Jinna had given two nation theory but he did not want to discriminate on the basis of religion. But, their inheritors failed him.

    At first Ahmadias were ousted from Pakistan and then Gurudwaras were broken. General Jia-ul-Haq had started intense Islamasation of Pakistan and this made lives of non-Muslims miserable in Pakistan. In such a situation how Pakistan can be allowed to raise issue of human rights violation In India? Pakistan has closed its eyes on the condition of non-Muslims in the country. It is to see what steps Pakistan government takes to save human rights of Asia Bibi.

    R. L Francis
    President – Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM)

  • Truth behind the appeal to Hindus
    By R L Francis
    Vatican’s thinking about Indian Christians is not based on facts and that is why Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue of Pope has issued a message on the eve of Dipawali for Hindus. In this message, Hindus have been told to fight against anti-Christian propaganda in the country. The appeal says Dipawali is the festival of conquer of light over dark. It again says that Hindus and Christian should jointly fight and pave the way for religious freedom. The Vatican’s appeal is very shrewd as it is trying to justify Conversion.
    Vatican should know that Catholic Church enjoys equal freedom as Hindus do. Representative of Pope Benedict XVI Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio is directly appointing Bishops in India without any problem. They are building new churches and schools in the name of minority rights. How much more freedom Vatican needs?
    Vatican thinks that Christians have been victimized by Hindu extremists in the last few years and this has posed problems for missionaries. But Vatican should understand that Conversion has been the main reason behind these conflicts. Many enquiry commissions set up by various respective states in Odisha, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have pointed fingers towards this direction. However, Christian has every right and freedom to pursue their religion in India. The problem gets creates only where missionaries try to increase empire of church. Is this not a fact that poverty stricken areas of tribal regions are on the target of these missionaries? Why missionaries need to help only those who accepts their religion. “Jesus had said that if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect. (Math. 5:47-48)”
    It is a fact that missionaries face problem only at those places where they try to convert. This has increased tension in the tribal region. Hindu organizations believe that Vatican is preparing ground for conversion on the basis of huge foreign funds. Though, they get these funds for social activity. Those who have already been converted, their conditions have not improved.
    10 percent of the total population of catholic Christians in the country lies in Chotanagpur region. Even church documents accept that 91.47 percent domestic girl workers are Christians and non-Christians percentage (Sarna) is merely 1.3 percent. Sixty percent of the converted dalit Christians comprise the total population of Christians in this country. And, church is trying to include them in the list of Hindu dalits. It is clear that conversion does not open the doors of liberation.
    Kanchi Shankaracharya Swami Jayendra Saraswati and some other spiritual had meeting with Cardinal Jean Louis Pierre Tauran, President of Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue for communal harmony in 2009 in Mumbai. Everybody accepted that conversion is the main obstacle in religious harmony. Now Pope Benedict XVI is having the meeting of the world’s spiritual leaders in Asisi of Italy and they are discuassing about the communal harmony.
    Problem is that success of evangelical activity has been liked with the increasing the numbers. India is no exception. In north-east region Protestants and Catholics are fighting among themselves. Local catholic Bishop Jose Mukala protestant Christians are forcing Catholics to become protestant in the Kohima region. Properties of Catholics are being arsoned. They have appealed for their safety to United Nations. Few years ago catholic and protestant missionaries had decided that they will not convert each-other members. Now, the question is from where the number will come?
    In this month hundreds of tribal representatives from nine states were called in Bhopal by Catholic Church in an Adivasi Mahotsava. The motive of this was to liberate them from social, economic and political exploitation. They were indoctrinated that they were not Hindus and they are free to chose their religion. This makes the motive amply clear. Two-years-ago Catholic Church had told that church is still at infancy stage among tribal people. The message is very clear. However, rift between tribal Christian and non-Christians is getting wider.
    The appeal talks about anti-conversion law in few states in India which has posed problems for missionaries. Vatican should understand that Indian constitution permits them to follow any faith of their choice and it also allows them to propagate any religion. But there is a thin line between conversion and propagating the religion. It is the duty of the state to restrict the freedom of those whose only goal is to just convert people. It is a known fact that wherever people have been converted, social tension has increased. Now, onus of establishing social harmony lies on the shoulder of church. The church should spend the money on the welfare of those who have already been converted and are being exploited inside the church. Vatican should think about their liberation.
    The writer is President, Poor Christian Liberation Movement.INDIA