“Open Doors has asked the UK Government to use its influence to ensure Asia Bibi’s safety,” said Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK and Ireland.
“The news that Asia is free is a major step forward. Some have reported that she is out of the country but we have just heard from a reliable source that she is still in Pakistan. What is clear is that she is still in danger. Asia has suffered for too many years for a crime she did not commit. She has been declared innocent by the highest court in Pakistan and deserves to rebuild her life. Since news broke about the impending judicial review we have been urging the UK government to ensure her safe passage to another country, where she can be united with her family.” she continued.
“The blasphemy laws in Pakistan are often used corruptly to allow persecution with impunity and to silence witnesses to crimes. Asia’s case and the violence surrounding it symbolises the extremes of opinion on these laws.”
Last August, in a parallel to Asia Bibi’s case, Sharoon Masih, 17, was beaten to death in front of his teacher in a classroom at MC Model High School in Burewala, Punjab province. Sharoon’s family was told by his classmates that Ahmad Raza carried out the attack after expressing annoyance because Christian Sharoon had drunk water from the glass used by all students. Raza did not go to prison for the murder.
In 2012, Open Doors campaigned on behalf of 11-year-old Rimsha Masih who was accused of blasphemy. The case against her later collapsed but she was unable to remain safely in Pakistan.
Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab who spoke out for Asia and against the blasphemy laws, was assassinated by his own bodyguard in January 2011 for his comments. In March 2011 Shabaz Bhatti the Minister of Minorities, another high profile critic of the blasphemy law, was also assassinated.
Zoe Smith adds: “Many people think that introducing an additional clause to the blasphemy laws laying out penalties for false accusations for corrupt purposes would be a way forward to end the current widespread abuse.
“Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.’ This is not the case in Pakistan where Christians and other minorities live in fear.”
Pakistan is number 5 on Open Doors World Watch List Historic churches have been subject to bomb attacks. All Christians suffer from institutionalised discrimination, with occupations that are seen as low, dirty and derogatory being officially reserved for Christians, most of whom are from the poorer classes. Radical Islamic groups, courted by political parties, the army and government, run thousands of schools capable of stirring up enmity towards religious minorities.