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Will the US Stand Up for Asia Bibi?

A man flies a flag at a rally in Chicago for keeping immigrant families together (Photo: JIM YOUNG/AFP/Getty Images)
A man flies a flag at a rally in Chicago for keeping immigrant families together. (Photo: JIM YOUNG/AFP/Getty Images)

Will the U.S. stand up for Asia Bibi? The story of Asia Bibi is a tragedy beyond proportions. It also provides us a test as to just how committed the West is to human rights – with some countries, including the “GREAT” Britain failing miserably.

Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman and mother of four who was jailed in Pakistan under a trumped up charge of blasphemy nine years ago. The fact that she was in jail for almost a decade is horrific enough, but saga is still ongoing.

While the Pakistani Supreme Court remarkably and finally found her innocent and ordered her release, riots took place across the country clamoring not only for her death but also for the death of the three judges who found her innocent.

This shows not only the complete breakdown of law and order in Pakistan, but reveals the psyche of a people gone mad with the taste of blood in its mouth.

There was a rumor that Bibi had been allowed to leave the country, but Pakistan vehemently denied this. Fortunately, her lawyer fled the country and is vying for her release from a non-disclosed location in Europe.

So what should Bibi do? Stay in Pakistan and be killed? This is certainly what will happen if she stays. Her only option is to get asylum in another country. Her lawyer and supporters are trying to accomplish this.

Meanwhile, the UK, a leading Western power, shamefully refused entry to Bibi citing fears of reprisals from its Muslim population. Is this what the world has come to? We seem to have lost our souls and the capacity to think about who is a REAL refugee is and what a REAL human rights violation is.

 

Pakistan’s blasphemy crimes

I was in Pakistan in 2011 when the cold blooded murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer took place. Taseer had taken up Bibi’s cause. Shortly after that in the same year, Pakistani minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was gunned down for speaking out against the blasphemy law.

In 2012, seven Christian women and children were burnt alive, several dozen people were injured and nearly 180 houses were looted and destroyed in three Pakistani towns.  These acts were carried out on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations of “desecrating the Holy Quran by the Christians.” The government failed to protect the innocent people caught up in this carnage despite prior warning of the attack.

Pakistan has lost its soul.

While in Pakistan, I heard educated and refined Pakistanis support the death of Salman Taseer, and it reminded me of Nazi Germany. First ordinary people were in denial, then they were indifferent, and later they accepted the propaganda that made another human being worthy of killing.

The elephant in the room in Pakistan is the dreaded blasphemy law which few want to discuss, let alone abolish. Over two thousand lawyers and judges have refused to be affiliated with any case which involves the blasphemy law.

In Pakistan there are three levels of the judicial system. There are military courts that deal with cases of terrorism. Then there are the sharia courts which use archaic laws to settle cases. Finally, there are the civil courts.

Bibi was convicted in a sharia court. The case was then moved to the High Court and later taken up by the Supreme Court that published a 56-page judgement at the end of October saying she was not guilty, as there was no proof and no credible witnesses.

 

How did the blasphemy law come to be?

The blasphemy law was first established by Pakistan’s British colonizers who made it a criminal offense to commit “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any [stress mine] class by insulting its religious belief.”

This law was meant to protect the diverse faith groups that lived in pre-partition India. After partition, the law was retained. In his address to the constituent Assembly of Pakistan, Pakistan’s first president, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, said, “What are we fighting for? What are we aiming at? It is not theocracy – not for a theocratic state. You are free to go to your temples; you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state….”

In the 1970s, Pakistan’s Islamist military leader General Zia ul-Haq, who ruled the country for 11 years, made several additions to the law, including life imprisonment for those defiling or desecrating the Quran or the Prophet. In 1986, the death penalty was introduced for anyone found guilty of defaming Islam.

Today, the dreaded blasphemy law is like a cancer in Pakistan and is contrary to every aspect of the U.N. Universal Human Rights Charter. The blasphemy law is in violation of Articles 2, 3 and 4 of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination based on Religion and Belief. It also violates articles 2 and 4 of the Declaration of the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.

Ironically, the blasphemy law has been used in Pakistan as a systematic tool of discrimination and abuse against religious minorities as well as for ethnic cleansing. Under the banner of this inhuman law, it is believed that since 1987, almost 1,000 people have been accused.

Although religious minorities form only three percent of Pakistan’s population of almost 167 million today, nearly half the victims of this law were Ahmadis, with the others being Christians and Hindus. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief called the punishments accompanying the blasphemy law excessive and disproportionate to the offense.

Where is the world in taking up the cause of Asia Bibi? We already know where Great Britain stands, but will Donald Trump or my own Canadian prime minister (who calls himself a feminist) take the lead and lobby to bring Asia Bibi and her family to North America so they can live?

 

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RR
Raheel Raza
Raheel Raza is ​an adviser to Clarion Project. ​She is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker on the topics of jihad and sharia. She is president of The Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow, and an activist for human rights, gender equality, and diversity.

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