Friday, May 10, 2019

Aasia Is Out! Free to Join Her Daughters in Canada

"She is finally free form all ordeals."
"Her daughters are in Ottawa. They landed in December last year so naturally she must have been joining them."
"If you're in hell and somebody would say you're soon to be in paradise there is no question to ask."
"The Supreme Court of Pakistan has announced that the allegation against her for blasphemy was false. Please don't follow her. Let her lead the rest of her life in peace."
Saif-ul Malook, lawyer, Islamabad, Pakistan

"Aasia Bibi bravely held on to her faith through the most brutal of incarcerations that involved her having access to sunlight for two hours per month."
"Now she finally travels to Canada to be reunited with her children."
"She must be treated with utmost care and receive appropriate medical care now she is free."
Wilson Chowdhry, British Pakistani Christian Association 
In this Nov. 20, 2010, file photo, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, listens to officials at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan.
In this Nov. 20, 2010, file photo, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, listens to officials at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan.  AP Photo, File

In January, a three-judge Supreme Court panel in Pakistan ruled there to be no compelling reason to overturn the court's earlier acquittal of Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman who had been held for eight years on death row on charges of blasphemy in Pakistan. That ruling cleared the way for her to leave the protective custody she was being held in. Despite that she had been acquitted of charges and finally set free, the uproar her acquittal caused in riots and death threats led the government to wait for several months until tensions diminished before allowing her to leave.

Tellingly, for a repressive, Islamist nation where a significant proportion of Pakistanis called for her death, believing she had blasphemed against the Prophet Mohammad, that same three-judge Supreme Court panel affirmed and upheld the blasphemy law. It is a law that is draconian in the extreme. A law that is often used as a bludgeon to cudgel the Christian population with vicious threats, and where false charges can be brought to destroy the lives of people, sometimes in settlement of land disputes.

Aasia Bibi was part of a farm working crew of women sent out to gather fruit on a sweltering day. She had taken water from a communal bowl, but because she was Christian and the others Muslim she was accused of defiling the bowl and the other women refused to drink from it. She lashed back, defending her religion, asking what Mohammad had ever done for humankind, comparing him to the ultimate benevolent sacrifice that Christ had lent himself to, to advance the fortunes of humanity.

She was reported to the village police, arrested, taken into custody, imprisoned and found guilty then sentenced to death. And she lived on death row for eight long tortuous years, her family unable to see her as she languished because of a sharia-led Islamist system that victimizes minorities. Other Christians came to her defence as did a few Pakistani Muslims who abhorred the blasphemy law and the divisiveness of extreme Islamism, rampant through the country.

The Christian governor of Punjab province, shot to death by one of his Islamist guards in 2011 for his defence of Bibi criticized the misuse of the blasphemy law and the assassin, hanged for the killing of Salman Taseer, is a celebrated martyr, millions of devotees taking to making a pilgrimage to a shrine dedicated to Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin. Shahbaz Bhatti, then minister for minorities in Pakistan, later that same year of 2011 was assassinated when he sought justice for Bibi.

Aasia Bibi's 2009 conviction of blasphemy exposed the woman to a dreadful ordeal. Her cause, however, was made public and people across the world became aware of the situation, espousing justice on her behalf. When Pakistan's Supreme Court overturned her conviction a year ago she was taken into protective custody. The rioting by Islamist fundamentalists, enraged at her release and imminent departure from Pakistan have threatened anyone who supports her.

In this Nov. 1, 2018, file photo, Pakistani protesters burn a poster image of Christian woman Asia Bibi, in Hyderabad, Pakistan.
In this Nov. 1, 2018, file photo, Pakistani protesters burn a poster image of Christian woman Asia Bibi, in Hyderabad, Pakistan.     AP Photo/Pervez Masih, File

Lawyer Malook knows his life is in danger because of his association with Aasia Bibi, but feels he is needed in Pakistan by others placed in danger for the very same reasons that Bibi experienced. Anyone who knows her, who befriended her, speaks anonymously for fears of reprisal. Because of the suffering meted out to this woman through captivity in prison and the isolation she suffered, she is in poor health.

Finally, however, Aasia Bibi and her husband, Ashiq Masih, have left Pakistan after spending weeks putting together documents they require to accompany them. She spoke with her daughters in Canada almost daily from the secure location she was placed in, guarded by Pakistani security forces. And though no one is really addressing where she is with any certainty it is widely believed that Aasia Bibi has finally been reunited with her daughters in Canada where the family will be enabled to live in peace and security.

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