Pakistani Christian Woman Sentenced to Hang for Blasphemous Comments

Pakistani Christian Women

A Christian woman in Pakistan has been sentenced to hang for making blasphemous comments about Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman. While working as a berry picker in 2009, Asia Bibi got into a quarrel with a group of Muslim women, who did not want her to drink their water because she is Christian and thus ‘unclean.’ A few hours after the incident took place, one of the women reported 46-year-old Bibi, who is the mother of five, to a local cleric, alleging she had made unforgivable comments about the Prophet during their quarrel.

Christian Women

After the allegations, an angry mob arrived at Bibi’s home and savagely beat her as well as her family members. After some time had passed, Bibi was arrested on grounds of blasphemy before being sentenced to death by a Sharia court. Her whole family went into hiding after being threatened with their lives.

Earlier this month, despite an international outcry with thousands of protesters signing a petition for Bibi’s release, she lost an appeal to have her sentence overturned, which means she will soon be hanged to death.

The shocking incident made international headlines after two eminent politicians, who were supporting Bibi, were assassinated. One of the politicians was killed by his own bodyguard, after which lawyers showered the murderer with rose petals when he came to court for his hearing. The judge who convicted him for his crime had to flee the country soon after.

Naeem Shakir, Bibi’s lawyer, said her accusers have failed to be consistent since first raising their complaint. He said two of the witnesses did not even appear in court for the hearing. A Muslim cleric, who did appear in court, said he had not witnessed the actual incident though Bibi did confess to him about her alleged crime at a later time.

Shakir said, “I was expecting the opposite decision. We will file an appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in a few days.”

However, Gulam Mustafa, the complainant’s lawyer, believes the court ruled correctly.

“Asia's lawyer tried to prove that the case was registered on a personal enmity but he failed to prove that,” he said.

Ashiq Maseeh

Human rights groups in Pakistan say religious extremists as well as ordinary citizens frequently exploit the country’s blasphemy law to settle personal scores. The law itself does not define the crime of blasphemy and evidence often fails to reach the court in fear of leading to a fresh offence. In fact, false accusations have no penalties. Those accused are often lynched on the spot and if they are arrested, police officials and court proceedings ensure the trials are dragged on for years, as is the case with Bibi.

Bibi, originally a farmer from rural Punjab, released a memoir titled ‘Blasphemy’ in 2013, describing her suffering while not knowing how long she has to live.

“I drank water from a well belonging to Muslim women, using 'their' cup, in the burning heat of the midday sun. … I, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death because I was thirsty. I'm a prisoner because I used the same cup as those Muslim women, because water served by a Christian woman was regarded as unclean by my stupid fellow fruit-pickers,” says Bibi while trying to explain how she got trapped in the case.

Mrs Bibi's Daughters

In the book, Bibi talks of how she grew tired of being treated like a second-class citizen, only because she happened to be Christian. Tired of receiving calls that either insulted her or tried to convince her to convert, Bibi says she decided to stand up to her preachers and defend her own faith. Apparently, her attempts were received by pushing and shoving from the others, which is what compelled Bibi to flee the scene.

When she returned to work less than a week later, she was attacked again and this time by an angry crowd that was accusing her of having insulted the Prophet. Bruised and battered, Bibi was taken to a local cleric who said the only way she would be forgiven was if she agreed to convert. He warned that if she chose not to comply, she would face death. In 2010, Bibi was sentenced to death by a Sharia court. She became the first woman in the history of Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Mrs. Bibi

Bibi’s death sentence has garnered international outrage, with human rights groups asserting how Pakistan’s blasphemy law is equal to religious persecution.

Kate Allen, UK Director of Amnesty International, said, “This is the latest blasphemy outrage to come out of Pakistan. It seems obvious that this is a case of religious persecution, and it’s very likely the result of a squabble which escalated out of all proportion. Blasphemy accusations in Pakistan are often used to settle petty vendettas and persecute minority groups. It’s a complete disgrace that the courts are complicit in these vendettas.”

Bibi’s case drew the attention of a number of online petitions urging her release, one of them attracting more than 400,000 signatures from across 100 countries. On October 19, the Central Secretariat of Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), strongly condemned Bibi’s death sentence. In a statement, Nazir Bhatti, president of PCC said Christians are never met with justice by Pakistan’s lower or higher courts.

Photo Credit: Pix Unlimited

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