Woman on Death Row for Defaming Islam

A Muslim and Christian walk into a field.

“You’re an idiot, health ” the Muslim says to the Christian when they get in an argument. “And you believe in nonsense.”

“You’re a bigger idiot!” replies the Christian. “And at least I don’t believe in a prophet that married little girls!”

“That’s not true!” says the Muslim. “And Jesus is overrated!”

“Mohammad was a conqueror,” says the Christian. “And a big dummy.”

In most situation, this mindless exchange would end, at worst, in tears.

In Pakistan, and a number of Muslim countries for that matter, it can end in a rope being wrapped around the non-Muslim’s neck as they are strangled until they haven’t a breath left in them in front of their entire community.

But the next candidate to be hung to death for allegedly anti-Muslim comments in Pakistan is no ordinary blasphemist – it’s a woman.

Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother from Punjab, was convicted of blasphemy last month over comments made during a 2009 fight. Currently in a prison near Lahore, Asia Bibi’s punishment is mandatory death, making her the first female in Pakistan to be sentenced to hang for blasphemy.

Asia Bibi claims she did not say whatever anti-Muslim words some of her fellow citizens feel make her worthy of death. There is a lot of local activism around her case and many have called for her release, including the Pope. But there are many conservatives in the country who advocate for her death and passionately defend the country’s blasphemy law. One cleric has even put a bounty on her head.

Rhetoric aside, no one convicted of blasphemy has ever actually been put to death in Pakistan.

But as the case becomes a rallying cry for radical Muslim groups in Pakistan, both Asia Bibi and her family are in increasing danger. Her husband, a poor brick maker, has already taken their children into hiding. There are countless cases of Christians, who make up just 2 percent of the country, being killed for their faith. A young Christian man accused of blasphemy last year was murdered while in prison, and Christian leaders in Pakistan warn that Asia Bibi is not safe.

One influential lone star has taken on her case: the governor. Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab province, went to visit Asia Bibi in jail last month and told President Asif Ali Zardari that she deserved clemency, a daring move for the leader of a region that is increasingly intolerant of religious minorities. The President agreed, and is reviewing the case.

More importantly, Taseer’s efforts have led to the country’s first prominent public debate of the blasphemy laws, which more than 100 Pakistanis are charged with each year.

Pakistan’s parliament is considering a new blasphemy law which would require criminal intent to be proven for a blasphemy conviction and which would shorten sentences. A number of Human Rights organizations, including both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called for the total repeal of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

In the meantime, it’s incumbent upon all of us to help keep up the pressure on the Pakistani government to release Asia Bibi. A new petition, directed at specific Pakistani foreign ministry officials, is below.

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