For nearly a decade “Free Asia Bibi” has been the rallying cry of human rights activists around the world protesting anti-religious extremism in Pakistan. Then on October 8, 2018, with the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquiting her of the crime of blasphemy, a capital offense in the country, it seemed that justice had prevailed. Not so soon. The 47-year-old mother of two and stepmother of three is still detained in the country.
In 2009, Bibi, a peasant from Punjab, Pakistan, the only Christian woman in her village, was picking berries with a group of other women, when she became thirsty, filled a bucket from the well, found a cup and drank water from it. Some of the women accused her of contaminating the water by drinking from it as a non-believer. She was castigated and harassed. It is reported that she finally reacted to the taunts, saying “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?” For this, she was denounced, accused, tried, found guilty of blasphemy and was ordered to be hanged until dead.
While Bibi was in prison on death row, Punjab’s liberal governor Salmaan Taseer, a vocal critic of the blasphemy law, publicly called for her acquittal and visited her in jail. Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri, one of his bodyguards, assassinated him for doing so. Also murdered for speaking out about Bibi was Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
Bibi remained in solitary confinement on death row until her case was finally heard by the Supreme Court in October 2018, where she was acquitted for lack of evidence. However, two days later, the government issued an order preventing her from leaving the country and no Western government has officially offered her asylum, presumably out of fear of terrorist reprisal.
Bibi’s attorney, Saiful Malook, who successfully represented her before the Pakistan Supreme Court in October, has now fled the country and is living in the Netherlands. Malook published an article in Lahore, Pakistan, this week in The Times, in which he details Bibi’s plight:
“Asia Bibi spent Christmas in a safe house in Islamabad, Pakistan. I hope that’s the last time my client, a Catholic, must spend the holiday unable to live and worship in freedom.
“Two months ago, a three-justice panel of the Pakistani Supreme Court overturned her 2010 conviction and death sentence for blaspheming.
“Protests by religious hardliners over the possibility that she would be allowed to leave Pakistan prompted the government to bar her, at least temporarily, from departing.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government appears determined to ensure the safety of Asia and her husband, Ashiq Masih, and the couple’s two daughters, until another country agrees to take them in.”
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
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