Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Pardon in Pakistan for religious tolerance

By Chelsea Whitton

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Other than military, terrorism and political issues from Pakistan in the news, one very untraditional story has found its way to the media by a woman fighting for her life and family’s protection. It is a story of family, defiance of a system, unshaken faith, survival and religious intolerance for minority faiths in Pakistan. The story has involved everyone from Christian activist groups, human rights groups, Pakistani government officials and all the way up to the Pope – who recently has made public statements on her behalf.

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani citizen, wife and mother of five is facing serious charges – so serious that they may take her life. Earlier this month after a year and a half of jail in Pakistan, Bibi was sentenced to death. The Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws are the reason she may lose her life. In June of 2009 Bibi, a farmhand was arrested on charges that she violated the country’s laws, according to fellow workers, who were mostly Muslim women.

Bibi is a known Christian in her town. As the minority, it is a tricky way of living as Christian in Pakistan. It is permissible to be a Christian in the country, but it is not permissible to violate the Blasphemy laws which include denying the Prophet Muhammad. According to the New York Times in a Nov. 25 story, “Ms. Bibi is the first woman in Pakistan to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. She is accused of denigrating the Prophet Muhammad after fellow agriculture workers protested that a Christian had been asked to bring them a container of drinking water.”

It is startling to see a 45-year-old mother of five prepare to lose her life for holding faith and objecting to the other field workers comments concerning water use. It was widely reported that after the incident in June of 2009 on the fields, the Muslim workers went to town officials accusing Bibi of defying the Blasphemy laws.

It is unbelievable that the court system in Pakistan could pass such a sentence based on little or no evidence. Who is to say what was said on that field that day in Pakistan? How does the claim against Bibi hold up in court with only evidence by word of mouth? There could be other motivations for the farm working women to go into town and report that Bibi had broken the Blasphemy laws. The lack of action in both Pakistani President Asif Ali, after claiming to pardon her and the courts decision to not overturn the decision is appalling. I believe that those involved in the case, those agreeing with the sentence including Taliban officials are committing an act far worse than sentencing Bibi to hang. They are further promoting religious intolerance, hatred, social divides and violence – something Pakistan does not need right now.

How is it possible as a religious minority in a country to hold your faith on an individual level and not have those around you hold prejudice or bias against you? How or when will there be protections for the minorities such as Christians in Pakistan?

Bibi is not the first to be persecuted under the Blasphemy laws, but she is the first woman to face the death sentence. If the ruling isn’t overturned, Bibi will stand as the face of religious intolerance and will have lost her life for a decision not carefully looked over.

I am hoping that intervention happens quickly. The U.S., to this point, has made no statements concerning the case. The only outreach other than activists and human rights has been from the Pope. In a time where Pakistan can’t decide on the court’s ruling, I believe it may be possible to push for a pardon through international diplomatic efforts.

Officials in Pakistan have said that the law is the law and no matter what religion, breaking the law is a matter to be decided upon in court. But it is a different matter when the death sentence stems from a squabble over water.

According to Huffington Post contributor Noel Irwin Hentschel, there are fundamental flaws within the law’s structure proving this case is based upon laws that are contradictory to the way religion in Pakistan was intended. In a Nov. 30 Huffington Post article, Hentschel wrote, “The Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan are antithetical to the protections to minorities guaranteed in Pakistan’s Constitution and the very concept of religious freedom on which Pakistan was founded in 1947.”

The biggest fear if Bibi is pardoned is that there is enough support against her that she could potentially be harmed living her day-to-day life. There have been rallies recently against an impending pardon. Telegraph.co.uk reported that, “Although no one has ever been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws – most are freed on appeal – as many as 10 people are thought to have been murdered while on trial.”

According to Catholic San Francisco Online, the Pope publicly stated at the Vatican on Nov. 17, “In particular, I today express my spiritual closeness to Ms. Asia Bibi and her family while asking that, as soon as possible, she may be restored to complete freedom. I also pray for people who find themselves in similar situations, that their human dignity and fundamental rights may be fully respected.”

AOL news reported on Nov 22. that, “Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti stepped into an international controversy that already includes the Pope and human rights organizations. Bhatti, who investigated the case at the president’s behest, says his inquiry indicates that Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five, was falsely accused.” Bibi is claiming her innocence and in the upcoming days there is hope that her life will be saved and her family will be able to keep their wife and mother.

In America, we have the freedom to believe what we may, let our faith drive who we are and what we do, and also have the First Amendment right to free speech, and therefore, can hold opinions on both our religion and others. I believe that faith is a fundament of life and hope that whoever chooses any particular faith may be able to hold it – no matter the country. I also realize how fortunate we are in our country to be able to hold our beliefs and not face potential persecution over them.

It is my hope that Asia Bibi doesn’t become the face of a Christian minority being unjustly judged and persecuted over a matter than involves zero evidence.

Chelsea Whitton is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Pardon in Pakistan for religious tolerance”

  1. David Hunt '90 on December 3rd, 2010 9:25 am

    Careful, your “Islamophobia” is showing.

    [Reply]

  2. Arafat on December 9th, 2010 7:20 pm

    While Muslims whine about Israeli genocide (an outright lie because the Palestinian population has soared over the last three decades) we do not hear a word from them about the real gencodies happening –at the hands of their brothers — throughout the Islamic world.

    Sudan anyone?

    http://www.hudson-ny.org/1685/muslim-genocide-of-christians

    [Reply]

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