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 email@example.com, or to write directly to President Asif Zardari at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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.