In 2009, Ms Bibi was involved in a dispute at a well where she and her fellow farmhands were fetching water. One of her co-workers, who noticed Ms Bibi drinking a cup of water from the well, cried out she had contaminated the cup because she is a Christian. Ms Bibi defended her religion and, according to one of the women, made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.
Ms Bibi was charged and later sentenced to death for blasphemy. This was despite glaring inconsistences in the accounts of different witnesses. The cleric who brought forth the blasphemy charges was also not present when the dispute happened.
Many church and human rights groups in Pakistan say the blasphemy laws are often abused to persecute religious minorities and settle personal disputes. More than 125,000 Pakistanis have signed petitions in support of Ms Bibi and a number of Muslim scholars have called for the repeal of the blasphemy laws.
Ms Bibi’s final appeal was to be heard last Thursday but it was adjourned after one of the judges recused himself due to his involvement with a related case.
In her memoir, Blasphemy: Sentenced to Death Over a Cup of Water, Ms Bibi writes about her torment in prison as she awaits her execution.
“These days I see nothing but bars, wet ground and walls black with filth. Everything smells of grease, sweat and urine…I thought I’d get used to it, but no. It’s the smell of death mixed with despair,” she wrote.
“The one thing that keeps me going, despite all the deprivation, anger and this terrible fear that never leaves me, is that I am innocent. The certainty that I am being treated unjustly. And the desire to bear witness, to do what I can so that my fight will help other people.”
For the past six years, Ms Bibi has lived mostly in solitary confinement. Her husband and five children have gone into hiding following numerous death threats. Hardliners have vowed to kill Ms Bibi if she is released from prison.
If the death sentence is carried out, Ms Bibi will be first person in Pakistan executed for blasphemy. Human rights groups have warned this will set a dangerous precedent for human rights in the country.
Many of those accused of blasphemy seek asylum in other countries. While no one has been executed under the laws, since 1990 more than 46 people have been murdered after being charged with blasphemy.
Politicians and judges who speak out against the laws also face death threats.
Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab who spoke out in Ms Bibi’s defence, was shot dead by his own bodyguard. Justice Arif Iqbal Bhatti was murdered after he acquitted two people accused of blasphemy.
Pakistan’s former federal minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti said nearly 85 per cent of blasphemy charges are false cases. He was later assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban for his comments.
The synod’s Justice and International Mission unit is asking church members to write letters to the Pakistan government. Some points you may wish to include in your letter include:
- Express concern that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been misused and have generated physical violence, damage, destruction of properties and loss of life, especially against religious minority groups but also against Muslims.
- Request the blasphemy laws be repealed.
- Express concern that the death penalty against Asia Bibi for blasphemy was upheld by the Lahore High Court
They can be addressed to:
Minister of Law, Justice and Human Rights
Room 305, S Block, Pakistan Secretariat
Salutation: Dear Minister
Church members are also encouraged to write a letter to Australian foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop:
The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Salutation: Dear Minister