The international community has been demanding Pakistan to grant refuge to Aasiya Noreen, popularly known as Asia Bibi, in the west. While Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted Asia, who spent nine years in jail, of the blasphemy charges after nine years in prison, the government is preventing her from leaving the country until the review petition is heard. Asia Bibi has expressed her desire to visit Germany. But will it happen?
On October 31, Pakistan’s apex court acquitted Asia in the blasphemy case where she was charged for insulting the prophet Muhammad. Post court’s decision, the court slipped into protests called by radical Islamist groups.
Asia Bibi has now been released from jail. There are speculations that Bibi and her family have been sent out of the country, but Pakistan’s foreign ministry has denied these reports. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal has said that the news of leaving the country was misreported.
The European Parliament president Antonio Tajani confirmed the release of Aisi Bibi and said that he hopes to meet her in Europe soon. He wrote on Twitter, “Aasiya Bibi is being released from jail and sent to a safer place. I expect Bibi and his family to meet in the European Parliament soon.”
#AsiaBibi has left the prison and has been transferred to a safe place! I thank the Pakistani authorities. I look forward meeting her and her family, in the European Parliament as soon as possible.
— Antonio Tajani (@EP_President) November 7, 2018
On November 11, Asia Bibi’s attorney Saif-ul-Mulook said in a conversation with the German newspaper, ” Bild am Sonntag, “Bibi wants to come to Germany with his family. On October 31, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ruled in possession of Asia Bibi and acquitted her of the charge of blasphemy.” Fearing life threat from the radical elements in the country, Mulook left for the Netherlands a day after the verdict.
The cases of blasphemy in Pakistan are not new, but the case of Asia Bibi has made headlines around the world. In 2015, Bibi’s daughter met Pope Francis, who later prayed for Bibi in the Vatican City. Many European countries are ready to keep Bibi and her family, but it is not clear when she will be allowed to leave Pakistan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government wants to fulfil every possible legal requirement before Bibi leaves the country. Pakistan’s government has now provided security to Bibi and kept it in a safe place.
In fact, a reconsideration petition was filed on the next day of the Supreme Court’s decision. The court will hear it in the coming days and before that Asia Bibi cannot get out of the country. The fundamentalists hope that the court will not reject this petition, but instead send it to a bigger bench for hearing.
With the protests in the country getting intense, Imran Khan’s government agreed with the fundamentalists to prevent the bloodshed. There was also a lot of criticism for Khan’s government. Recently, Imran Khan has assured the media that as far as law and order are concerned, there will be no relaxation. He said, “I want to make it clear that the government supports the court’s decision and we will not have any kind of agreement.”
In the past few years, many Christian and other minorities in Pakistan have been killed over the charges of blasphemy.
In 1980, the military dictator General Jia-ul-Haq introduced the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. However, human rights activists allege that Christians, Hindus, and Ahmadi Muslims are often targetted under the guise of blasphemy. This law is also misused in cases of petty disputes or mutual intimacy.
On January 4, 2011, the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer was assassinated at the Kohsar Market in Islamabad by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Salman was demanding reform in the Blasphemy law and invited the wrath of fundamentalists.
After this incident, many lawyers refused to fight the case of Asia Bibi. In 2014, the Lahore High Court upheld the lower court verdict. Consequently, the family appealed to the Supreme Court. The hearing on this case in the Supreme Court was to start in 2016, but just before the trial, a judge refused to be part of the bench.
In August 2012, a child with Down syndrome was accused of tearing the pages of the Quran. The child was immediately taken into custody and was released after several months of protest. After this incident, violence against Christians in the surrounding area also erupted. In 2013, the child’s family left the country and went to Canada.
Similarly, in 2014 a Christian couple were burnt alive over the charges of insulting the Quran. In September 2017, a Christian man was sentenced to death because he was allegedly spreading a blasphemous message on Whatsapp. There is no end to such cases in Pakistan.
According to the American Center for Law and Justice, in Pakistan, at least 40 people were sentenced to death or life imprisonment under the law of blasphemy in 2016 alone. Islamist groups have seen an increased influence over recent years and in many high profile Blasphemy cases.
Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Ahmadi are part of the minority community in Pakistan. The community complains of legal and social discrimination in Pakistan. In the last few years, murders of many Christians and Hindus took place due to just the charges of blasphemy.
Pakistan’s fundamentalist Islamic forces have already threatened that there should not be any kind of softness on Asia Bibi’s case. Tehreek-e-Labek’s attitude is quite threatening. The Christian community of Pakistan thinks that if Asia Bibi’s sentence is changed, then the radical violence will come down.