Former blasphemy prisoner says remember others behind bars
Asia Bibi has finally broken her silence in Canada and has been speaking out on video and in the press about her blasphemy case in Pakistan.
In a video that reveals neither her face nor her location, and in a press interview, the 54-year-old Christian has described how she held on to her faith throughout her ordeal on death row, after being falsely accused of blasphemy.
In a video posted to YouTube and reported in the Washington Examiner, she says: ‘I, Asia Bibi, believe in Jesus. My belief is strong. I never let my belief weaken.’
‘Stay true to your faith’
This is the first time Asia’s voice has been heard in a recording. And she has a message for the world:
‘To all the world, my message is the same: please stay true to your beliefs. Even if you have to face the sword, please hold firm to your faith. Even if you have to sacrifice everything.’
Asia was finally acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court after years on death row under threat of assassination. She was accused of breaking Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, a charge she always denied.
Now free in Canada, she says: ‘I want to declare one thing to the world: that I had not done anything wrong to deserve what I suffered for 10 years. I was granted my freedom through Jesus.’
Asia was picking berries in a field, when her Muslim co-workers accused her of committing blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed. When she brought water for them to drink they called her and her water unclean, because she was a Christian.
The Supreme Court ruled the charges against her were false and malicious, and threw out the case.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used to settle scores and take out rivals. Just to accuse someone of blasphemy can incite extremists to commit murder.
Militants have packed the courts, baying for blood and threatening judges. Senior politicians who have called for the blasphemy laws to be reviewed have been assassinated and their killers hailed as heroes.
In her video, Asia calls for cases such as hers to be judged fairly, and for the world to remember the others who remain behind bars. According to the US State Department, 77 others are currently in jail for blasphemy in Pakistan.
‘I cried for my daughters’
‘The people on death row on blasphemy charges, be positive about them,’ says Asia, ‘Go and visit them and listen to them.’ In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph in August, Asia called for the blasphemy law to be reviewed.
She spoke about the damage her decade in jail had caused her and her family. ‘My whole life suffered, my children suffered. This had a huge impact on my life.
‘When my daughters visited me in jail, I never cried in front of them, but [later] I used to cry alone filled with pain and grief. I used to think about them all the time, how they are living.’
Canada granted temporary refuge for Asia Bibi’s daughters and permitted the Christian mother to join them there. There had been calls for the UK to grant her asylum, but according to the Telegraph, Asia had never actually applied for asylum to the UK.
The paper reports that the family is expected to eventually move to Europe, to an undisclosed country.
Release International has long been campaigning for Pakistan to repeal its blasphemy laws and is working with partners in the country to support and care for prisoners of faith. They have included Asia Bibi’s family.
For more on Asia Bibi, click here