Canada can and should save this woman's life
National Post, 7 November 2015
A poll revealed some 10 million Pakistanis would be willing to murder Asia Bibi, a Christian, either for her 'blasphemy' or for offered payment
Nothing short of an international effort will save the life of Asia Bibi, who faces mortal danger now that Pakistan’s supreme court has acquitted her of the blasphemy charges that kept her on death row for eight years. The state will not execute her, but the mob will.
Perhaps the world’s most prominent religious liberty case, Bibi’s troubles began in 2009 when she was accused of insulting Muhammad. Bibi worked as a farmhand, and the charge grew out of dispute when her fellow farmhands objected to her drinking from a common water supply, because she was Christian and they were Muslim. A mob threatened her then, from which she was rescued by the police, only to be charged with “blasphemy” against Islam. She was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to death.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law prescribes death by hanging for those convicted. No one has ever been executed under the law, as it causes grave embarrassment for Pakistan’s government in international relations. However, Christians charged under the law often spend years in prison or are subject to mob “justice.”
Salmaan Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab, spoke out against the blasphemy law in 2010 and petitioned for a pardon for Asia Bibi. He was assassinated in January 2011 by his own bodyguard, riddled with 27 bullets from an assault rifle. His murderer was executed for the crime in 2016.
Two months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and Minister for Minority Affairs in the Pakistani national government, was also assassinated by Islamist extremists for taking up Bibi’s case. His killers have not been brought to justice. The Catholic Church has opened a formal “cause” to investigate whether Bhatti might be declared a martyr and canonized a saint.
Bibi’s case has been winding its way through the Pakistani justice system and the court of international opinion. It reached the supreme court, only to be delayed when a justice — likely fearing for his own life — recused himself. Yet last week, in an act of supreme courage, the Pakistan Supreme Court threw out the blasphemy conviction, dismissing as “nothing short of concoction incarnate.”
The ever combustible “Islamic street” inflamed itself immediately, with mass protests calling for Bibi’s death, even if by extra-judicial means, i.e. the bloodthirsty mob. Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, fled the country after the acquittal due to death threats against him and his family.
A national poll revealed that some 10 million Pakistanis would be willing to kill Bibi themselves, either for the “blasphemy” or the money offered for doing so. One Pakistani mullah has offered a large cash reward to anyone who kills Bibi — on the street or in detention.
Bibi was released on Thursday after being flown to the Pakistani capital overnight from her detention facility in southern Punjab. Her whereabouts in Islamabad remains a closely guarded secret.
Since her acquittal, fundamentalist groups have filled the streets with protests, prompting the government to make a deal to end them: Bibi’s acquittal would be “reviewed” by the supreme court and she would be added to the list of people not permitted to leave the country. The review will likely not change anything, as the court just ruled last week.
But if Bibi is not permitted to leave Pakistan, her acquittal means that she has gone from death row to “life” row — apparently permanent protective custody.
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