Back in late 2018 we published an article on the release of Asia Bibi after 9 years of imprisonment for blasphemy due to the fact that she, a Christian woman, dared to drink water from a glass of her Muslin co-worker. We are now happy to find that she and her daughters are doing fine and that Asia wrote a book about her experience and the 'awful torture Asia Bibi suffered', hoping it will help Pakistan's Muslims to become more tolerant and to embrace a rightful freedom of belief for all religious minorities in that country.
Asia Bibi’s memoirs published in Denmark lead to Interview with Juliet Chowdhry
A Danish Christian newspaper was shown the realities of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, when interviewing Juliet Chowdhry from British Asian Christian Association, at the launch of a Danish translation of Asia Bibi’s memoirs.
Asia Bibi was wrongfully arrested and convicted of a blasphemy in 2009, the same year as the British Asian Christian Association was formed.
The Danish article can be read here, but requires a subscription, and opens by describing the some of the awful torture Asia Bibi suffered, through an extract from the memoirs.
“My wrists are burning and I am having a hard time breathing. An iron ring, which the prison guard can tighten at will, squeezes around my neck, which my youngest daughter usually holds on with her small arms. A long chain connects my neck with the handcuffs around the prison guard’s wrist. The chain drags across the dirty floor and he pulls at it as if it were a dog leash. Deep down, I feel the fear pull me down towards the darkness of hell. A constant anxiety that never goes away.” (A translation taken from Google of the first paragraph of the article).
In the article a quote from Juliet set the scene for the current situation in Pakistan, its reads:
“Asia Bibi’s freedom after the brutal incarceration is a great joy for us, and the contacts we have with her confirm that she is doing well in Canada. Her testimony has helped raise awareness about the dangerous blasphemy laws in Pakistan. “The number of blasphemy cases against Christians has been fairly constant with two or three new cases a year, and that in itself is alarming. But after a fall in 2020 during the corona pandemic, the number has now increased significantly with six new charges in the first eight months of the year.”
(from left to right) Hannah Chowdhry of BACA with Asia Bibi and her daughter Esham (credits)
Of course we do not want to re-write the whole of the article for everyone, but Juliet contributed a lot describing in details the torrid situation faced by Christians in Pakistan.
The article is extremely well written and we would encourage our Danish supporters to read and share the article. However, do let us know if you are a Danish supporter so we can decide whether or not to add Danish to our growing list of languages for post translations.
British Asian Christian Association, was one of the few charities that helped with the release of Asia Bibi from her 9 year long incarceration for a falsely alleged blasphemy (click here). We were also very involved in the international dialogue calling for her freedom (click here). If you are moved by this story and want to support our work you can donate (here).
Below we share some of the Pakistan Blasphemy law responses submitted by Juliet Chowdhry to the Danish Newspaper reporter:
The liberation of Asia Bibi was a major victory for human rights. But how has the situation with regard to freedom of religion evolved since then?
We are still rejoice over the release of Asia Bibi which we were very much a part of and thank God for her exit from a very brutal incarceration. Our prayers for her remain as strong as when she was still suffering in Pakistan. Our recent talks with Asia Bibi whilst she has been residing in Canada suggest she is settling down very well and we thank God for her life and testimony, which has raised the profile of the dangers associated with the draconian of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
Little has changed in my former homeland, in many ways things have worsened. Up until this year Asia Bibi held the record for the longest term of imprisonment for any blasphemy convict. Now Zafar Bhatti an elderly man with a wife who is in very poor health, has been refused bail and his appeal against his conviction has been denied.
Sadly, this refusal means he will soon cross a decade of incarceration making him the longest serving blasphemy victim in Pakistan’s torturous history.
Particularly with regard to the use of the blasphemy law: is there a decrease or an increase in the number of cases ? And what could explain either of these directions?
The number of blasphemy victims reported each year have been quite constant (2-3 a year) and this is quite alarming, though there seemed to be a lull in accusations during the initial 2020 phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Islamists in Pakistan have cancelled out this deficit, by already achieving a record for allegations of a blasphemy against Christians in 2021, with the figure for the year already reaching 6. With close to 4 months remaining till the end of the year signs are that Pakistan is becoming more intolerant (see list at the end of article).
Pakistan as a nation is simply not ready for change. Blasphemy allegations are laid against Christians and other minorities to settle personal scores, to force them into hiding so their property and possessions can be illegally confiscated with impunity, to remove Christians from senior employment roles by covetous colleagues and because of religious bigotry and hatred. Cases are brought to authorities on whimsical evidence with police and the courts always taking the side of the Muslim accuser either due to prejudice, a bribe or fear of a mob attack.
The situation cannot improve while the current blasphemy laws are in place. A return to the original laws that were introduced by the British in 1898 to protect Muslims from Hindu radicals would be a sensible direction for Pakistan to take – but the will to do this simply does not exist. Those laws had a maximum sentence of two years or a small fine and were Islamized by dictator General Zia in the 1980’s when life and death sentences were introduced. Unfortunately the majority of Pakistan’s current society have been brought up learning a very fundamental form of Islam through Saudi funded mosques. Coupled with a national curriculum that openly demonizes minorities caricatures them and is bereft of any historical recognition of their contribution to Pakistan, this has left minorities vulnerable and in many cases occupying the lowest rung on the social ladder.
When the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom reported on the bigotry within Pakistani text books and the US threatened to remove foreign aid back in 2013, the Pak-Government did their best to remove the offensive text and actually removed 50%. Sadly their already Islamised curriculum officers then added a further 50% of derogatory text and accusations of lip service attempts to change the curricula were emphasized in their more liberal newspapers.
It is imperative that Pakistan removes the anti-kaffir text from school text books in tandem with a change of laws if we are ever to see a more egalitarian Pakistan. Such a programme would have to be ingrained for many decades before you will see any real change to the prejudices rife within the nation.
Before 1984 only 10 blasphemy convictions had occurred in Pakistan. After the 1984 Islamization of the blasphemy laws by 2013 the figure had risen to 1274. Of them 35% were laid against the Ahmadi Muslim sect who are outlawed in Pakistan and 15% were laid against Christians who only make up 1.2% of the population a clear disparity.
Are there any signs that religious or political organizations make other Christians “pay” for the liberation of Asia Bibi and the publicity about it?
No, the religious hatred exists irrespective of Asia Bibi who many extremists have now forgotten about. Probably because they don’t want to be reminded of their failure to have her hanged or because they do not want to be heckled by their supporters because she escaped their clutches. Hatred for Christians in Pakistan was never because of Asia Bibi but because of years of inculcation of anti-Christian propaganda, even though the nation has been relying on foreign aid from the ostensibly Christian nations of Great Britain and the US for years.
Which are the major cases of concern to you right now?
Two recent stories relating to Christian nurses highlight that no Christian is safe. The fact that even nurses who have been helping during the COVID-19 pandemic and have no doubt saved countless lives is heart-breaking and illustrates a sense of the them and us status in Pakistan, where Kaffir (non-Muslims) are increasingly seen as the enemy. In one of the recent cases two nurses boycotted shifts at a COVID-19 ward, after they argued that Muslim nurses should also work on these high risk wards. In response the furious Muslim Head Nurse accused them of blasphemy when they removed some bacteria-infested stickers from some cupboards that apparently had Islamic inscriptions, causing them to be beaten and almost lynched by other Muslim colleagues. The two women are still in jail and are fighting for their freedom.
In a separate case Nurse Tabeeta a famed Gospel singer, who was almost burnt alive after attempts to coerce her into signing a false confession of blasphemy. Her life was spared after a few brave Muslim colleagues who spoke out on her behalf. One sharing a very public video calling for greater introspection amongst the Muslims of Pakistan illustrating what British Asian Christian Association has always said, that not all Muslim’s in Pakistan are intolerant. Her beautiful words have been a real inspiration to the Christians of Pakistan.
Nurse Tabeeta has now escaped Pakistan to another country after police dropped the charges. In both the cases above Police took no action against the perpetrators of violence towards the assaulted nurses.
We also share details of our chagrin in the case of Nabeel Masih who we have released from jail on bail. He was only 16 years old when convicted and was kept in jail for four years despite never being convicted. Though there has never been any strong evidence that he has committed a blasphemy a mixture of Judge vacations and numerous lawyer strikes, have meant we are being delayed in his acquittal. Worse still despite the threat to his life not one nation has offered asylum to this young man who is easily recognized across Pakistan. We fear for his safety once he is acquitted and hope your article might cause an offer of asylum.
The Vatican has expressed concern that the victory of the Taliban might fuel extremism in other countries in the region, including against Christians. What is your vision of this?
We have been supporting many converts from Islam to Christianity or atheism in the UK with relocations to safe houses, or on other occasions establishing links with afghan, Iranian or Indo-Pak churches in near their residences so they could attend to improve their Biblical erudition and fellowship. One of them recently shared their thoughts about the safety of Christians remaining in Afghanistan, he stated that most Christians wanted to stay in their homeland to ensure that the Gospel would still be available to those who were seeking God. He also explained that unless the Taliban changes the Koran or the teachings of the Hadith there was no way they would be able to become more tolerant and create a free modern society.
On that basis, I would have to agree with the Vatican. The Taliban follow the most radical forms of Islam – Wahhabism and the Deobandi movement. Deobandi followers in Pakistan have increased since the migration of Afghans during their recent wars and have been involved in the destruction of many religious shrines belonging to Shia’s, Sunni and Sufi Muslims who they see as enervators or those who water down the Islamic faith. The Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the famed Bamiyan buddhas in 2001 during a rampage in 2001.
The terrorism we see across the globe and rise of other extremists groups such as IS and Al Qaeda is rooted in the intolerance taught towards other faiths in Wahhabism. If people think Pakistani national curriculum textbooks are bad they should read some of the Saudi Textbooks that are taught in Taliban schools. One Muslim commentator described the text as follows:
“Well, here, this is a book, hadif, for ninth grade. Hadif is a statement of Prophet Mohammed. This is a book that start for ninth graders. This is talking about the victory of Muslims over Jews. This is a hadif that I truly believe it’s not true, as a Muslim:
“The day of judgment will not arrive until Muslims fight Jews, and Muslim will kill Jews until the Jew hides behind a tree or a stone. Then the tree and the stone will say, ‘Oh Muslim, oh, servant of God, this is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.’ Except one type of a tree, which is a Jew tree. That will not say that.”
“This is taught for 14-year-old boys in Saudi Arabia.”
Taliban schools will teach such intolerance to their next generation leading to the type of fundamentalism that results in the export of terrorism.
Over the years the Taliban have established close links with Al Qaeda and IS, it is inevitable that their shared religious views will only enhance this relationship.
With the Taliban now in control of Afghanistan the nation seems to be heading in an inexorable trajectory towards becoming a base for extremism and terrorism. This will no doubt be exacerbated by the understandable desire by western nations to not provide foreign aid or support to a Talibanized Afghanistan.
List of Pakistani Christian blasphemy Convicts
|Shugafta & Shafqat Emmanuel||Accusation of Sending Blasphemous msg||23.07.2013||Acquitted 30.06.21|
|Shezad Masih||Using Blasphemous words||Jul-17||Convicted|
|Qaiser Ayub||Using Blasphemous words||Nov-14||Convicted|
|Sawan Masih||Blasphemous Comments||Nov-13||Convicted|
|Imran Masih||Blasphemous Video in phone||May-16||Convicted|
|Nabeel Amanat Masih||Posting a derogatory image on social media||Oct-16||Bailed 01.03.21|
|Perzvaiz Masih||Using Blasphemous words||Sep-15||Acquitted 15.08.19|
|Patras Masih||Posting a derogatory image on social media||Feb-18||Convicted|
|Awais Qamar||Using PVC banner as carpet which had religious words||Jul-15||Convicted|
|Humayun Faisal||Burnt shreds of the Quran in a pile of Garbage||May-15||Convicted|
|Ishfaq Masih||Using Blasphemous words||Jun-17||convicted|
|Asif Stephen||Burning of Quran||Aug-17||convicted|
|Nadeem James Masih||Blasphemous poem through text msg||Oct-15||convicted|
|Yaqoob Bashir||Burning Booklet containing Quranic verses||Jun-15||Convicted|
|Tabita Nazir Gill||Speaking words of blasphemy to collegaue||28.01.21||Released by Police 29.01.21|
|Haroon Ayub Masih & Salamat Mansha Masih||Making derogatory marks about Islam while street preaching||13.02.2021||Charged|
|Asia Noreen Bibi||Drinking from same well as Muslims||14.07.2009||Acquitted 31.10.18|
|Mariyam Laal and Newish Arooj||Removing bacteria-infested stickers with Islamic scripture||09.04.21||Charged|
|Shagufta Rafiq||Being in whatsapp group where a blapshemy occurred||29.07.2021||Charged|
|Stephen Masih||Accused of saying a blasphemy while in a brawl with Muslim men||11.03.2019||Convicted|