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If we’re going to give Pakistan all those billions, it should repeal its blasphemy laws now

If Ireland has to accept external interference for economic aid, why not Pakistan?

By on Thursday, 18 November 2010

AsiaNews is urging people who oppose the death sentence on Asia Bibi to write to the Pakistan president, Asif Ali Zardari, pictured with Gordon Brown at a news conference in New York (Darren Staples/PA Wire)

AsiaNews is urging people who oppose the death sentence on Asia Bibi to write to the Pakistan president, Asif Ali Zardari, pictured with Gordon Brown at a news conference in New York (Darren Staples/PA Wire)

I begin by quoting AsiaNews.it, a Catholic website, on the latest and most shocking example of the gross injustice which is the inevitable result of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws:

“Asia Bibi, a 37-year-old farm worker mother of two, was convicted of committing blasphemy before her fellow workers during a heated discussion about religion in the village of Ittanwali in June last year.
 
“Some of the women workers had reportedly been pressuring Bibi to renounce her Christian faith and accept Islam. During one discussion, Bibi responded by speaking of how Jesus had died on the cross for the sins of humanity and asking the Muslim women what Mohammed had done for them.
 
“The Muslim women took offence and began beating Bibi. Afterwards she was locked in a room. According to Release International, a mob reportedly formed and ‘violently abused’ her and her children.”

Asia Bibi was then charged with blasphemy following pressure from local Muslim leaders, and sentenced to death, and also to a (for her) massive – and therefore unpayable – fine. Though many have died by “extra-judicial” mob violence incited by this law, this is the first time a woman has been actually sentenced to death in Pakistan for this kind of supposed offence.
 
The blasphemy law was introduced in 1986 by the dictator General Zia-ul Haq and since then has become an engine for the incitement of discrimination and civil violence against Christians. The law imposes life in prison for defiling the Koran and death for insulting Mohammed. Not only Christians have been targeted. Between 1986 and August 2009, at least 974 people have been charged for defiling the Koran or insulting the Prophet. They include 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis (a Muslim sect which holds, among other things, that jihad should always be peaceful), 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions.
 
There is now a massive campaign against Asia Bibi’s death sentence (spearheaded by AsiaNews. At his general audience this week, the Holy Father made a point of springing to the defence not only of Asia Bibi but of Christians in Pakistan, who he said are “often victims of violence or discrimination”. “Especially today,” he said, “I express my spiritual closeness to Mrs Asia Bibi and her family, while I ask for full freedom to be restored to her, as soon as possible”. He added that he prayed also for “those who find themselves in similar situations, that their human dignity and their fundamental rights be fully respected”.
 
The Justice and Peace Commission in Pakistan have demanded the abolition of the blasphemy law, and have collected more than 75,000 signatures not just from Christians but from Muslims too. AsiaNews has helped to spread this campaign in Italy and at the European Parliament and they give a link to a deeply depressing (and enraging) “dossier” of their past reports about the blasphemy laws in particular and Pakistani religious persecution in general.
 
The question I would like to ask is this: is Pakistan a civilised and moderate Islamic country: or is it a fanatical Islamist dictatorship? This blasphemy law would be comprehensible under the Taliban or in Persia under Ahmadinejad: it is not comprehensible in a country which is supposed to be on our side against al-Qaeda, the Taliban and all their works. Another question: what does our government have to say about this kind of behaviour in an ally – to whom, incidentally, we give large sums in aid, £60 million to flood victims alone. I would not wish to see that curtailed: but what about the $5.7 billion pledged by the US and other nations at an international donor conference in Tokyo before the floods?
 
Ireland is reluctant to accept help from the EU and the IMF because it means a loss of some of its sovereignty. Well, if Ireland has to accept interference in its internal affairs as a result of having to accept international aid, what about imposing a few conditions on Pakistan for all those billions, which we cannot afford? And what about making one of them the immediate repeal of this abominable law?
 
AsiaNews is asking for these opposed to the death sentence on Asia Bibi to email them at salviamoasiabibi@asianews.it, or to write directly to President Asif Zardari at publicmail@president.gov.pk. They suggest the following text (which is frankly a bit basic:  I would have thought it much better, if you can, to write in your own words):

To Mr Asif Ali Zardari,
The President of Pakistan
November 15, 2010
 
Mr President,
 
Asia Bibi’s death sentence is not just a sentence, it is a state crime.
 
Therefore I hope you will not permit that, not only because of your sense of justice but also because it is badly affecting the reputation of your country.
 
Please intervene as soon as possible to reduce the pains Asia Bibi and her family are suffering.
 
Moreover the constant deliberate persecution of Pakistani Christians through the law on blasphemy is offending the Almighty God more than any human being.
 
Sincerely
(signature)

  • RJ

    The email address doesn't appear to work. Mail gets returned with the message that the recipient is “over quota”. Too much to hope that means they are being flooded with e-mails?

  • EditorCT

    Sincere thanks to William Oddie for publicizing the terrible plight of this young mother, Asia Bibi.

    I agree fully that very serious pressure should be brought to bear on Pakistan to rescue this woman and to repeal their barbaric blasphemy laws.

    When I think of the very real blasphemies perpetrated in the UK, not least in the name of “art” and “entertainment” with Christ and Our Lady mocked at every turn yet nothing done about it no matter how many of us complain, my blood boils. Yip, that's my blood boiling you hear, not the electric kettle.

  • EditorCT

    RJ

    I've just emailed the President of Pakistan and sent a copy to AsiaNews using the email addresses given in the article and at time of writing, they've not bounced back. In any case, your email will get through eventually if it's a matter of “over quota.” Once the backlog clears, the rest will get through, she said with such confidence that you'd think she knew what she was talking about. I agree with William Oddie that the letter could be stronger, so I wrote my own. I'm copying it below in case it doesn't get through – I'm determined SOMEBODY will read it!

    Mr President,

    I write to express my shock at the treatment of Asia Bibi. The punishment of a death sentence meted out to her, is completely out of proportion to her alleged crime of blasphemy and is, itself, a crime of the most serious nature. To execute her, and to leave her children without their mother, is barbaric.

    This case is badly affecting the reputation of Pakistan. A growing number of people here in the United Kingdom are becoming aware of the plight of Asia Bibi and it is causing people to question whether Pakistan is, in fact, a civilised country. This case, perhaps more than any other, has highlighted for us the fact that Christians in your country are persecuted often beyond endurance. We find that Moslems here demand all sorts of rights and every consideration; however, increasingly, we are becoming aware that our indulgence towards non-Christian minority groups in the United Kingdom is not reciprocated abroad and there is a very real sense of injustice and anger about this fact. I published the entire story on our website and ran it for several days, along with an opinion poll asking for the views of our readers. The overwhelming majority voted that “Islam is not a compassionate religion.” Mr President, you can prove them wrong by releasing this woman without delay.

    Please intervene to release Asia Bibi and reunite her with her family as a matter of urgency. They have all suffered this manifest injustice long enough. END.

  • http://jamiemacnab.wordpress.com/ Jamie MacNab

    I do hope that all shall turn out well for Asia Bibi and, of course, for her family. It is a truly shocking state of affairs which reminds us of just how precarious is civilised life in Pakistan and other states in the region.

    In the case of Pakistan, it is, I think, the existence of the badlands in the NW Frontier District which is the problem. I was there almost fifty years ago and saw how primitive the people were. I am sure it was Islam, for all its faults, that kept them from outright barbarism. The authorities kept a close watch on their comings and goings, but seemed powerless to intervene. But since then, these people seem to have gained a political power which is spreading a corruption throughout the country as a whole.

  • Fireheart

    There should be a death sentence for offending God. Not Muhammed.

  • Hermoon Gill

    If the Pakistan government asks the British government to change or amend one of the British laws,do you think David Cameron will oblige?
    Don't rant about billions,talk about principles.

  • John

    Are any of the British laws killing Muslims in the name of blasphemy? What is the comparison between Pakistan and Britain here? I fail to understand.

  • Pindi67

    One country is asking the other to change or remove a certain law.By the way…the way things are going for Muslims in Britain and elsewhere I don't think it would be long before we see that happening in Britain too.

  • Ianlogan

    Muslims are not subject to draconian blasphemy laws in this country, nor are they going to be. But if we did have such laws, it would be incumbent on people and institutions in other countries to call on the British government for their repeal.

  • Auricularis

    Your facebook link does not work. Please amend this

  • Fly by night

    So, if Pakistan is being exhorted to repeal a blasphemy law, and, Ireland is being used an example of using foreign aid to influence change, why aren't you also calling upon Ireland to repeal its blasphemy law? A civilized country shouldn't have blasphemy laws on its books. Its the hallmark of a medieval society.

  • Fly by night^2

    And people wonder why all religion is considered evil by many?

  • paulsays

    I agree this story is disgusting. Blasphemy may be insulting, but denying freedom of speech and in this case leading to a barbaric murder is far worse. People don't need protection against being insulted, they need protection to be able to freely speak their mind as long as it doesn't insight hatred.

    It must be said that true protection of free speech only comes in a secular society. Many Christians you would be surprised to know fully support a secular society. Such as 'Christians for separation of church and state' Secular does not mean an atheist population, it just means a government that does not specifically support one religious group.