Pakistan: Anti-Christian Persecutions
Imprisoned for a year now in a Pakistani jail for “blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed”, Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian, was condemned to death last November 11 by the tribunal of Sheikhupura of the province of Penjab, situated in the east of the country. Although the governor had declared her innocent, the magistrates judged her guilty and even threatened to go on strike if the decision was not applied. But under international pressure, especially that of the Pope, the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari announced, last November 21, his intention to pardon and release this mother of 4 children, if the justice of the country would allow it. This justice refused to approve the decision, maintaining that the trial was still underway.
The affair dates back to June 2009. While working in the fields with other women, Asia Bibi was asked to get water to refresh the group. But the other workers, Muslems, refused to drink “impure” water brought by a Christian. The different versions of events all say that Asia Bibi was threatened if she didn’t renounce her faith. Doubtless because she refused, the mullah of the district went to see the police, who immediately made a search and arrested this mother of a family on the strength of article 295 C of the Pakistani penal code. In effect, this “anti-blasphemy” law prescribes prison for life or the death penalty for any “insult” against “the prophet Mohammed”.
Last November 17, in St. Peter’s Plaza, Benedict XVI asked for the release of the accused. “These days, the international community is following with much concern the difficult situation of Christians in Pakistan, who are often victims of violence and discrimination”, recalled the Pope. He also claimed to be there in his thoughts with Asia Bibi and her loved ones threatened with death. Lastly, he asked that “her full liberty be restored as soon as possible”. This call was partially heard, since the president tried to pardon Asia Bibi and she is going to have the right to a new trial to prove her innocence. But even if the accused obtains her liberty, she will probably have to flee Pakistan with her whole family.
As the November 29 online edition of the Figaro said, even if “most condemnations are rejected when appealed, the guilty are sometimes lynched by the crowd”. An alliance of Sunni Muslems of Pakistan (the Sunni Ittehad Council) has already warned that a pardon granted would lead to an unleashing of anarchy in the country. “Our position is very clear: she cannot escape this punishment”, insisted Sahibzada Fazal Kareem, the leader of the Sunni Ittehad Council on November 26 to the French Press Agency. These past months, the anti-Christian violence committed in the name of the “anti-blasphemy” law has multiplied, particularly in the province of Penjab, the most highly populated province in a country about 3% Christian.
The assassin of young Shazia Bashir acquitted
Along the same lines as the Asia Bibi affair, another trial has just taken place in Pakistan. Naeem Chaudhry, a rich Muslim lawyer who had raped and killed a 12-year-old Christian girl, Shazia Bashir (see DICI no. 210), was acquitted on November 30 by the tribunal of Lahore in the province of Punjab. He, his wife and his son, however, were strongly suspected of having compelled the girl to work as a domestic, confining her in their house and raping her before she succumbed to the daily beatings to which they subjected her.
Whereas this affair had caused quite a stir and agitated a good number of organizations and persons within Pakistani civil society, the court nevertheless declared that Shazia “died a natural death because of a skin disease”. According to the news agency Fides, the trial and the evidence were cleverly manipulated so as to exonerate those prominent upper-middle-class Muslims. “For the family of Shazia, justice will not be done,” Nasir Saeed remarked to Fides on November 27. “This is not the first time, in cases of this sort, that the trials leave influential Muslim citizens unpunished, despite the atrocities committed against poor, defenseless Christians,” said Saeed, head of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement, which offers free legal aid to Christians in Pakistan and has headquarters in London and Lahore. For Peter Jacob, the executive secretary of the “Justice and Peace” Committee of the Pakistani Bishops, the verdict is “vile” and “demonstrates that certain persons are above the law”.
This ruling seems all the more unjust, given that human trafficking in minors is behind the case of Shazia Bashir (see DICI no. 212). The children are snatched from poor, often Christian families, who are led to believe that this will give them access to a life with dignity in bourgeois households. They are then sold, becoming “little slaves”, at the mercy of their owners, deprived of all freedom. (Sources : apic/fides/AFP/Le Figaro – DICI no. 227 dated December 18, 2010)