Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death
ITAN WALI, Pakistan, November 18, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A Pakistani Christian woman is facing death following a conviction under the nation's Blasphemy Law, after she defended her faith against a group of Muslims who insulted her for her Christian beliefs.
Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old farmworker and mother of three, was working in the fields of her small town of Itan Wali in the Punjab region of Pakistan in 2009 when her hand touched the water that the workers were to drink. The Muslim women working with her then refused to drink the water, saying that it had been contaminated by the touch of a Christian. Some reports indicate that the group had been pressuring Asia to abandon Christianity for some time.
In the argument that followed, Asia reportedly defended her faith, although there are two versions of the exact nature of her statements. The Muslim women claim that she insulted Mohammed, claiming that he had died "with worms in his mouth." However, Asia's defenders say that she never made any insults, but rather defended her faith in Christ, affirming that he had died for the sins of mankind and risen from the dead, while Mohammed had not.
After the women complained to a local imam, Quari Salim, the cleric filed charges against Asia for "blasphemy," and she was sent to prison to face trial. Fifteen months later, on November 7, she was sentenced to hang for her "crime," and to pay a fine equivalent to two-and-a half years' salary for an unskilled worker.
A group of townspeople in Itan Wali told CNN that they all support the death sentence against Asia, and Quari told the news agency that her death sentence was "one of the happiest moments of his life," according to the interviewer.
"Tears of joy poured from my eyes," said the imam during the videotaped interview.
However, not all Pakistani Muslims agree with that assessment. Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer told Asia News in an interview that he regards Asia Bibi's death sentence as "a disgraceful episode. It is an embarrassment for Pakistan," and he assured the agency that the appeals process would reverse the sentence.
Muslim scholar Asghar Ali Engineer agrees, saying that "We need to save Asia Bibi's life," and affirming that ""it is urgent to launch a campaign sustained by human rights leaders and governments ... We must not remain silent."
"In Pakistan, it is becoming increasingly evident, as in the case of Asia that blasphemy laws have become convenient instruments in the hands of anyone who chooses to target minorities," Profesor Asghar told AsiaNews. "The Blasphemy Law is un-Islamic and was introduced to legitimize dictator Gen Ziaul-Haq's regime, and it makes little effort to ascribe to the evidentiary or doctrinal standards of classical Islamic law."
In addition to local Pakistani Christians, international organizations and even the pope have become involved in the movement to free Asia Bibi.
"The international community is following with great concern the difficult situation of Christians in Pakistan, often victims of violence or discrimination," said Pope Benedict in a recent statement regarding the case. "I pray for those who are in similar situations that their human dignity and their fundamental rights be fully respected," he added, also mentioning his "spiritual closeness" to Asia.
Although it is possible that Asia will be eventually exonerated and her sentence nullified by a higher court, that may do little to protect her from the death sentence she has already received.
It has been reported that, in recent years, over 30 people who were accused of violating Pakistan's Blasphemy Law were either murdered in prison or killed following their acquittal and release.
Thousands of individuals and organizations have petitioned the president of Pakistan, Asif Zardari, to ensure a proper appeal for Asia and issue a pardon if necessary.
President Asif Zardari
The Spanish pro-life website HazteOir suggests the following text:
With all due respect, I wish to express my concern about the persecution that Christians are suffering in Pakistan, especially following the approval of the anti-blasphemy law.
I know, Mr. President, that your intention is to contain terrorism and radicalism of minority sectors of the population against the Christian community.
In this sense, please pardon Asia Bibi. A Presidential pardon would reflect your interest and that of your country to respect and defend freedom of conscience.