This week Jubilee Campaign is highlighting cases of religious persecution and discrimination in Pakistan in light of World Day of Social Justice on February 20th.
On June 19, 2009, Asia Bibi (also known as Asia Noureen) was arrested on the grounds of blasphemy charges. Asia, a Christian mother of 5, lived with her husband in Chak No. 3 Itanwali village in the Nankana Sahib district in Punjab province. The Centre for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement, a partner of Jubilee located in Pakistan, reported that only 5 Christian families were living in this village among 2,000 Muslim families. The Christians in this village usually work in brick kilns or other low-wage jobs.
Asia worked as a fruit picker in a produce field as the only Christian. Asia reported that she often felt discriminated against by her Muslim co-workers, but that she ignored it. On June 14, 2009, Asia was involved in an argument with two Muslim female co-workers. Asia was asked to retrieve water from a well, and as she was doing so she went to use an old metal cup to take some water for herself. One of her co-workers saw her and angrily told Asia that Christians were prohibited from drinking water from utensils used by Muslims because Christians are “unclean”. Her co-workers then made additional derogatory remarks about Christianity. Asia purportedly responded by saying that Jesus died on the cross for her sins, what did their prophet do for them?
June 18, 2009, days after the argument, one of the Muslim women told their Islamic cleric about the incident. Word spread, and a Muslim mob gathered at the produce field where Asia worked and grabbed her. They began physically assaulting her and some family members. Fortunately, the police came in time to save Asia from the mob and she was taken to the police station.
It has been reported that the woman who accused Asia of blasphemy did so because of a family vendetta against Asia’s family. False blasphemy accusations are highly common in Pakistan, especially among religious minorities as a method of revenge.
In November 2010, Asia was found guilty of the blasphemy charges and sentenced to death. If executed, Asia would be the first woman executed for blasphemy in Pakistan. Many have spoken out on behalf of Asia’s innocence, including Pakistani politicians, however, not without consequences.
On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was shot 27 times by his own bodyguard. He was adamant about the country’s need to dissolve its blasphemy laws, and was in favor of a mercy petition for Asia.
Two months later, on March 2, 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, was assassinated by the Tehrik- i-Taliban for opposing the country’s blasphemy laws. He was riding in his car when it was sprayed with bullets. He was also an outspoken advocate for Asia.
Asia’s case has been appealed, though the appeal was denied in 2014 by the Lahore High Court. In 2015 the Supreme Court stated that Asia’s death sentence would be suspended for the duration of its appeal process. Asia’s case has been postponed multiple times for various reasons. External pressure has been put on the courts, with Islamic leaders urging the courts to hang all those accused of blasphemy, and threatening to kill those who attempt to aid those accused.
Though justice has not yet been brought to Asia, believers worldwide still pray for her freedom, including Jubilee Campaign. Efforts have been made in the U.S. to urge Pakistan to repeal their blasphemy laws. In June 2015, Congressman Joe Pitts and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee introduced H.Res. 290 “Calling for the global repeal of blasphemy laws.” The resolution calls on the President and State Department to make repealing blasphemy laws a priority topic when dealing with countries with such laws. It also urges for Pakistan to be designated as a Country of Particular Concern by the State Department. To learn more about the resolution, click here.
In honor of World Day of Social Justice, and on behalf of Asia Bibi and all the other victims of blasphemy, we urge you to contact your Representative and ask them to support H.Res. 290. Unsure who your representative is? Find out here!