A little under two years ago, Asia Bibi, a 45 year old mother of five, a Christian, was arrested for blasphemy. She has been in prison now for one and a half years and on November 8, 2010, a court sentenced her to hang after convicting her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. According to the story, she and some women of her village got into something of a dispute in June 2009 when they refused to drink water she collected and she refused their demands that she convert to Islam. The women reported her to a cleric who then concluded Bibi had committed blasphemy and she was arrested.
This entire incident has drawn the attention the attention of the international community and even Pope Benedict has called for clemency. All of this is putting pressure on Pakistan’s president to step into the fray over the fate of this woman.
The government minorities affairs minister, Shahbaz Bhatti has delivered a report to President Asif Ali Zardari recommending that Asia Bibi be pardoned or released and that Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law be amended.
Unfortunately hard-line religious groups in the country are very influential and Zardari’s secular government will be severely tested in how it treats this matter. Hundreds of conservative Muslim demonstrators have threatened violence if Bibi is released, a pledge that has been echoed by other religious organizations and politicians.
Human rights organizations have long urged a repeal of the law, and Zardari’s party – whose government depends on a fragile coalition that includes conservative religious parties – has vowed, but so far done little, to prevent its abuse.
The Washington Post reported:
Several people have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, but none has been executed, according to government officials. Instead, human rights activists and lawyers say, the law is widely used as a tool for ostracizing religious minorities or for settling personal scores.
Though police supervisors are supposed to investigate cases, lawyers say that in practice, accusers must do little more than gather an intimidating group to lodge an allegation with police, who then typically make an arrest to avert an uprising.
According to a reprint of Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code by an organisation called ThePersecution.Org:
"295-C, Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine."
It is notable that there is no mention of the burden of proof. The accusation stands as is.
According to the "Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom May 2009"
Dramatic political events unfolded in Pakistan in the past year, some of them with a potentially significant impact on the rule of law and human rights protections generally, including freedom of religion or belief. This year also has seen the largely unchecked growth in the power and reach of religiously-motivated extremist groups whose members are engaged in violence in Pakistan and abroad, with Pakistani authorities ceding effective control to armed insurgents espousing a radical Islamist ideology. In addition, all of the serious religious freedom concerns on which the Commission has reported in the past persist. Sectarian and religiously-motivated violence continues, particularly against Shi‘a Muslims, Ahmadis, Christians, and Hindus, and the government‘s response continues to be insufficient, and in some cases, is outright complicit. A number of the country‘s laws, including those restricting the rights of Ahmadis and criminalizing blasphemy, frequently result in imprisonment on account of religion or belief and/or vigilante violence against the accused.
It is obvious that Zardari cannot let the situation continue as is. Change is needed and others are demanding it. Apparently Punjab governor Salman Taseer on Sunday was the first senior government official to appeal to Zardari for clemency after visiting Bibi in prison. With Bhatti’s report recommending a pardon, with the Pope weighing in, Zardari will have to do something.
Rights activists and pressure groups say it is the first time that a woman had been sentenced to hang in Pakistan for blasphemy.
Only around three percent of Pakistan’s population of 167 million are estimated to be non-Muslim.
Tell those who believed to forgive those who do not expect the days of GOD. He will fully pay everyone for whatever they have earned.
to read more from William Belle
Wikipedia: Blasphemy law in Pakistan
Section 295C Pakistan Penal Code
Human Rights Watch: Pakistan: Repeal Blasphemy Law
Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom May 2009
Sura – 45 Kneeling (Al-Jatheyah)