No tolerance in Pakistan

The Herald reports:

Asia Bibi has spent almost a decade in prison.

The Christian woman was sentenced to death in for insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a group of field workers. …

Aasiya Noreen “Asia” Bibi is a mother-of-five from Ittan Wali, a small rural village in central Pakistan.

In her biography, : A Memoir, Bibi describes the moment that would radically alter her life forever.

On June 14, 2009, she set out to the fields near her house to take part in a berry-picking harvest, for which she would be paid 250 Pakistani rupees for a day’s work — the equivalent of $3.

She described a climate of open hostility towards her from the women she worked with, because she was part of the country’s Christian minority, which makes up less than 2 per cent of Pakistan.

Around midday, dehydrated and sweltering in the sun, Bibi walked to the nearby well to have a drink of water.

But after she refilled the bucket a second time, a woman screamed: “Don’t drink that water, it’s haram!”

According to Bibi’s account, the shouter then turned to the dozen other women working in the fields and said: “Listen, all of you, this Christian has dirtied the water in the well by drinking from our cup and dipping it back several times. Now the water is unclean and we can’t drink it! Because of her!”

The argument intensified, with the women calling on Bibi to convert and “redeem herself”.

It was one sentence she fired back with that would seal her fate: “What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”

After this, Bibi said the women started screaming, spitting at her and physically assaulting her. She ran home in a fright.

Such kindness and tolerance.

Less than a week later, she went fruit-picking in another field when she was confronted by a rioting crowd, led by the woman who had initially shouted at her.

The crowd surrounded her, beat her and took her to the village, screaming: “Death! Death to the Christian!”

The village imam said: “I’ve been told you’ve insulted our Prophet. You know what happens to anyone who attacks the holy Prophet Mohammed. You can redeem yourself only by conversion or death.”

She protested: “I haven’t done anything. Please, I beg you, I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Bibi was taken to the village police station, covered in blood, where police interrogated her and put a report together. She was then put into a police van and taken straight to prison.

She has been in that cell ever since.

She gets beaten up by a mob and is the one arrested.

Bibi, 47, has already received one stay of execution from the Supreme Court, after lower courts rejected her appeals.

If today’s appeal fails, she will become the first woman in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy.

Bibi’s case has sparked widespread outrage in the international community over Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws.

“There is overwhelming evidence that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws violate human rights and encourage people to take the law into their own hands,” Amnesty International director of global issues Audrey Gaughran said. “Once a person is accused, they become ensnared in a system that offers them few protections, presumes them guilty and fails to safeguard them against people willing to use violence.”

There should be no criminal sanctions for blasphemy, and especially not a death sentence. It is the polar opposite of freedom of religion.

Would be nice for the NZ Government to speak up on this issue and show as much concern for Asia Bibi as it does for asylum seekers in Nauru. Maybe they could offer asylum in New Zealand to Ms Bibi.

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