Aasiya blasphemy case: Field notes, petitions and a press release

The death sentence that a district court handed down to Aasiya Bibi, a poor Christian woman in Punjab, is not the first of its kind except that this is the first time a woman has been so sentenced (but not the first time one has been so accused). Since the ‘blasphemy law’ was promulgated, there have been many such convictions – that the higher courts have always over-turned. District courts have also shown sense: I remember a woman district judge in Karachi acquitting Chand Barkat, a bangle seller who had been accused by a rival). However, vigilante violence (cold-bloodedly orchestrated by extremist organisations) has claimed the lives of some 20 charged under this law or publicly accused of this ‘crime’.

For a clear and informative article on this issue, see ”Filthy business‘ by Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan. Two still relevant articles from last year. ‘Stopping the rot‘ by me, and ‘Blasphemy laws: a fact sheet‘ by Mansoor Raza.

ONLINE PETITIONS: Please consider signing these online petitions demanding the sentence be revoked and the blasphemy law repealed:  Repeal Aasia Bibi’s death sentence and End Blasphemy Laws in Pakistan.

As I’ve said before, I’m not sure how much good these e-petitions do unless someone actually takes them and delivers them to the authorities who matter (and even then who knows). But of course the pressure must be built up at every forum possible.

Below, notes from a human rights activist to an email list I’m on, and press release from the National Commission on the Status of Women

Such incidents of mob violence against non-Muslims especially Christians have increased in this part of Punjab over the last few years. Most of the incidents especially Gojra, Bamnianwalla, Kasur, Sangla Hill, Sambrial, Sialkot and now Sheikhupura indicate that these [extremist] forces are active and gaining strength.

Nexus of Lashkars with power brokers operating mainly under the garb of PML-N and Khatam-e Nabuhat [organisation upholding the 'Finality of Prophethood] can be traced in most of these cases. We tried to break this nexus in some cases and mobilized our strength of social activists and successfully averted mobs [that were trying] to hit accused families.

In our fact-finding in Gojra we traced the footprints of Lashkar operating in mobs and doing the major damage. In most of these cases PML-N local political clout was involved and supporting the miscreants. Once the social pressure is built state agencies help as they did in Sialkot, Kasur and Sangla.

Our preliminary findings in Aasiya’s case also reveal that the case is not only malafide but engineered by local extremist groups to give impetus to their religious and political base. This case is also an example of neglect as not much has been done to safeguard the family from the judicial misadventure. Still much can be done to save the family from outrage of local extremists and file a strong appeal at high court. Favourable results can be achieved if human rights groups continuous send messages to state agencies, Punjab government and Federal government.

We must demand total safety of Aasiya Bibi and her family. While the case will soon be taken to the High Court where normally such cases are heard on merit and mostly accused are acquitted, human rights groups must build pressure.

Release Aasiya Bibi, repeal blasphemy law demands the National Commission on the Status of Women

The National Commission on the Status of Women has expressed its shock at the death sentence handed down to Aasiya Bibi by an additional session court in Nankana Sahib on the charge of having committed “blasphemy.” Asiya Bibi, who is the mother of five children, is the latest victim of the pernicious Blasphemy Laws that in their present form were promulgated arbitrarily by a military dictator more than twenty years ago. Since then the Laws, which have little to do with religion, have proved to be a powerful weapon in the hands of unscrupulous people and religious extremists for persecuting innocent citizens and settling scores. Persons charged under these laws, whether innocent or guilty, are rendered extremely vulnerable, and at least ten people have been killed [20, according to Mansoor Raza's article linked above], in some cases even when ostensibly under the safe custody of the State.

National Commission on the Status of Women strongly condemns the death sentence of Asiya Masih, following the judicial process on a FIR, registered on June 19, 2009, under sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Both sections state punishment by life imprisonment or capital punishment. Asiya has also been decreed a hundred thousand rupees as fine. Though an illiterate, she has been accused of denying the institution of prophethood, citing copious examples from the key texts of Islam.

The National Commission on the Status of Women has thoroughly investigated the matter and has come across some startling facts, clearly highlighting gross irregularities in the judicial process, clearly highlighting the need for reform in the legal injunctions. The clear dichotomy in the case is the “denial of prophethood”. How could you expect a Christian to conform to the Islamic creed? How could you expect an illiterate person to cite Islamic textual and exegetical references to deny the institution of prophethood?

The false allegation, which in a personal vendetta by a mighty landlord, who exploited a number of discriminating elements in the village, Chak 3 of Nankana Sahib, to settle his personal score against the poor victim, should be immediately reversed. Furthermore, there is a dire need to repeal the section 295 B and C, which are ubiquitously being used by the discriminating elements of the society to vent their personal grudge in the matters of feuds against the minorities. These two sections have been constantly giving the image of our society as non-tolerant. In order to transform this society into an open, tolerant, multi-cultural and pluralist one, we need to immediately take sincere actions in this regard.

The NCSW demands that Asiya Bibi, who has already spent a year in solitary confinement, should be immediately released and provided protection; and the Blasphemy Laws, which are violative of all norms of justice and have only served to strengthen extremism in society, should be repealed.


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3 Responses

  1. [...] This cup of tea was served by: Journeys to democracy [...]

  2. Thanks to the Blasphemy Laws, Asiya Bibi has been spared lynching so far, and has the right even to appeal against the sentence, otherwise she might have been lynched by now …. What is required therefore, in my view, is not the repeal of th BL but the end of the lynching culture.

  3. In my opinion it would be better if the BL is amended to make evidence more strict commensurate with the punishment, like that in case of adultary, requiring four eye witnesses with due qualification.

    An other problem is that the accused of lynching on account of blasphemy are seldom punished. I know personally a case wherein a few years ago a lawyer of Attock City, named, Ain Fatmy, was murdered in broad daylight on account of alleged blasphemy but no legal action appears to have been taken to this day against the culprit, although the victim was already under trial for alleged blasphemy and was released on bail only a few days ago.

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