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01/07/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Almost 10 years ago, a Christian woman harvest­ing berries in rural Pakistan got into an argument with her Muslim coworkers. Little did she know that this argument would result in an accusation that would explode into the most notorious blasphemy case Pakistan has ever prosecuted and would dominate religious freedom headlines around the world for a decade.

The case started when Asia’s Muslim coworkers became upset because Asia, a Christian, used the drinking bowl used by her Muslim workers. This makes sense once you understand that Christians in Pakistan are considered spiritually unclean and untouch­able, similar to India’s caste system.

When confronted by her coworkers, she defended her faith and, during the ensuing argument, reportedly said, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind?”

That was a near fatal mistake. Several of her coworkers reported Asia’s statement to a local imam named Qari Saleem and, days later, he formally accused her of blasphemy at a police station in Sheikhupura.

Soon after, a mob of enraged Muslims attacked Asia and her family at their home. Thankfully, police intervened, but then took Asia to a police station and opened an inves­tigation which led to charges being filed under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, which put Asia’s life on the line.

At trial, Asia maintained her innocence, claiming that she had been falsely accused by her coworkers to settle a personal score. False accusations of blasphemy are common in Pakistan. Often motivated by personal slights or religious hatred, false blasphemy accusations are an extremely deadly form of revenge. The mere rumor of an accusation can stir up deadly mob violence.

In November 2010, Judge Muhammed Naveed Iqbal of the Sessions Court of Sheikhupura found Asia guilty of blasphemy and sentenced her to death by hanging in addition to a $1,100 fine. With this sentence, Asia became the first woman in Pakistan’s history to be sentenced to death on blas­phemy charges.

Following the trial, Asia was sent to prison, where she was placed under 24-hour surveillance to protect her from other prison­ers and even her own jailers. Asia told the Catholic Herald, “I cried alone, putting my head in my hands. I [could] no longer bear the sight of people full of hatred, applauding the killing of a poor farm worker.”

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming tomorrow.

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