As Asia Bibi’s health worsens, Christian and Muslim activists call for her release
Over three and a half years later, Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, remains in a Pakistani prison waiting to appeal her death sentence for blasphemy. Despite denials from Pakistani government and prison officials, reports of her deteriorating health have revitalized the efforts of both Christian and Muslim activists seeking her release. Bibi continues to be a symbol for all those who suffer under or are committed to fighting against Pakistan’s “black law.”
By Jibran Khan
7/3/2014 Pakistan (AsiaNews) – “We strongly condemn the attitude of the judiciary. [Asia] Bibi has suffered enough, as has her family. It is time for justice to be done, and she should receive the necessary care. The courts must immediately address her case,” said Akeel Ali Mehdi, a Muslim human rights activist who spoke to AsiaNews about the plight of the Christian mother of five sentenced to death for blasphemy and has been waiting for years to appeal her conviction.
Fr Ilyas John, a priest and an activist from the Archdiocese of Lahore, shares those concerns. He confirmed that her psychological and physical health was [rapidly] deteriorating, and called for immediate medical care.
He added that the Church was concerned and praying for Asia Bibi as well as Sawan Masih, a jailed young man who was sentenced to death on the basis of the “black law” [blasphemy law].
On death row and solitary confinement for security reasons since November 2010, Asia Bibi has long been a symbol of the fight against blasphemy.
In 2011, Islamic extremists killed Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, for coming to her defence.
Pakistani Christians have promoted days of fasting and praying for her release, an initiative adhered to by some Muslims.
Recently, the Court of Appeal of Lahore repeatedly postponed her appeal trial, using delaying tactics and legal loopholes of various types, Bibi’s lawyers said.
The latest incident took place in late May, when Asia Bibi’s case disappeared without any reason from the list of hearings.
Local sources said that the court is trying to avoid the burden of ruling in this case, as orders from higher up push to postpone the verdict.
Lawyers Chaudhry Sardar Khan and Sardar Mushtaq Gill filed a new petition to have her appeal trial’s date set.
Civil society groups and various political leaders, not just Christian, have backed her cause through awareness campaigns and efforts to obtain her release.
The petition submitted to the authorities refers to her rapidly deteriorating “psychological and physical” health, a situation confirmed by relatives who met her in recent weeks.
The Interior Ministry reported that Bibi has the right to two medical visits per month. Prison administrators claim that medical reports about her poor health are phoney.
However, defence lawyers and family have sounded the alarm again with regards to her conditions, asking for greater medical care, along with a set date for the appeal process.
With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.
About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).
Scores of violent incidents have occurred in recent years, against entire communities (Gojra in 2009, and Joseph Colony, Lahore, in March 2013), places of worship (Peshawar, September last year) and individuals ( Sawan Masih, Asia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Robert Fanish Masih, who died in prison), often perpetrated under the pretext of the country’s blasphemy laws.