10/24/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Asia Bibi prays for freedom but judges are hostage of fundamentalists

by Jibran Khan
Ashiq Masih saw his wife in prison. She is frail but “high in spirit”. Prison guard is suspended for having “hot words” with Asia Bibi as prison security is tightened. The family continues to hope for her release, but judges are threatened by Muslim extremists. Pakistan mourns the death of Begum Nusrat Bhutto.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Asia Bibi continues to pray in death row. She still hopest she might be released soon and return to her family, her husband Ashiq Masih told AsiaNews. The 45-year-old mother of five was sentenced to death for blasphemy and is in jail waiting for her appeal to be heard. She “is weak and frail, but is high in spirit,” he added. She has a new guard because the one in place was “suspended” after she “had a few hot words with” his wife “over a minor issue.”

In recent weeks, the Pakistani press had reported that some of the guards had “tortured” her, an allegation her husband was quick to put to rest. In fact, Asia has been in isolation for the past few months in Sheikhupura prison (Punjab). In order to prevent any possible attack against her, prison officials have tightened security measures around the Christian woman. Islamic fundamentalists have in fact called for death and offered a reward for her murder.

As Ashiq Masih noted, she “is weak and frail” but “high in spirit” and has “been provided extra security” because “the situation is tense”. In light of this, “She is praying for all the people who are praying for her,” her husband said. Unfortunately, “the judicial system is becoming a hostage in the hands of the extremists."

For instance, Judge Pervez Ali Shah, of the Anti-Terror Tribunal in Rawalpindi, was removed from his post after he announced the death sentence against Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who murdered Punjab Governor Salman Taseer because he had defended Asia Bibi.

“We are praying and fasting for our mother so that she can be with us,” said Alishba Bibi, one of Asia’s children. “Each time I meet her, I can’t hold my tears. My mother tries to hold my hand through the gaps in the grilled window and says, ‘Have faith in the Lord. He will bring me home one day’. Every time I hear these words, I cry to the Lord to bring my mother back so that we can be with her again”.

Asia’s youngest daughter laments the situation. “I have not met my mother. I am scared.” She remembers seeing her “only in pictures” and of being unable to “control my tears”.

“There are times that I even lose all hope to see her ever again. I want to keep the memories of her, smiling and playing with us,” she added.

The family continues to live in hiding in a safe place because they too have been threatened by Islamic fundamentalists.

Meanwhile, another woman who has marked the recent history of Pakistan has passed away. Begum Nusrat Bhutto, 82, wife of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, mother of Benazir and mother-in-law of the current president, Asif Ali Zardari, died yesterday afternoon in Dubai.

The authorities have announced a public holiday to mark her death. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has proclaimed ten days of official mourning.

Of her four children, only the youngest daughter is still alive because she has never been interested in politics.

"The Bhutto narrative is beyond history. It belongs to the realm of legends,” the Prime Minister`s Secretariat said in an official statement. “The nation is once more united in their collective grief for a family whose sacrifices remain unparalleled in our lives.”
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