09/02/2019, 17.50
PAKISTAN
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Asia Bibi speaks for the first time, demands justice for the innocent victims of the blasphemy law

The Christian woman, who was acquitted of the charge of insulting the prophet Muhammad, fled to Canada. She remembers the pain of seeing her daughters grow up without her, noting that she often thought that she would not get out of prison alive. Pakistani prisons are currently holding 77 people for blasphemy, mostly Muslim.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Asia Bibi wants justice for the victims of the blasphemy law held in prison without charges or trial, this according to her first interview with the Sunday Telegraph after she went into exile in Canada.

Ms Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, became famous after she was falsely accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad. Initially convicted and sentenced to death, she was later acquitted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

Amid legal delays and death threats against her and her family, she spent nine years in prison. Now, free but forced to flee his country, she reminds the world that “There are many other cases where the accused are lying in jail for years and their [court] decision should also be done on merit. The world should listen to them.”

According to the US State Department, 77 people accused of blasphemy, mostly Muslims, are in Pakistani prisons. Their lawyers and human rights activists argue that the charges against them are false, often laid to settle private disputes and silence rivals.

Blasphemy is a capital offence and the mere suspicion is enough to spark mob lynchings. No one has been executed so far in Pakistan for blasphemy, but trials and appeals can drag on for years because of threats against judges and investigators.

Asia Bibi’s case is a classic example of justice delayed by extremist pressures. Blamed by some fellow workers and an imam in 2009, the 54-year-old Christian was tried, convicted, and eventually acquitted on 31 October 2018.

After she was declared "not guilty" last November, the extremist Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party blocked the main cities of Pakistan, threatening to kill Supreme Court justices and Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook.

To avoid further violence, Imran Khan’s government was forced to come to terms with protesters, granting a review of the Supreme Court’s verdict. Eventually, Asia was released but could not leave the country because of this deal with protesters. Meanwhile, her daughters travelled to Canada.

The case took a different turn thanks to Supreme Court Justices Saqib Nisar and Asif Saeed Khan Khosa who proved that all the charges and evidence against her were false.

On May 8, 2019, after seven months, she left Pakistan for Canada. Thinking about that moment, Bibi is still sad that she was unable to say goodbye to her father or home town. “My heart was broken when I left that way without meeting my family. Pakistan is my country, Pakistan is my homeland, I love my country, I love my soil,” she explained.

Speaking about her time in prison, she laments that “Sometimes, I was so disappointed and losing courage I used to wonder whether I was coming out of jail or not, what would happen next, whether I would remain here all my life.”

“When my daughters visited me in jail, I never cried in front of them, but when they went after meeting me in jail, I used to cry alone filled with pain and grief. I used to think about them all the time, how they are living.”

For this reason, no one should be treated the way she was. “I request the whole world to pay attention to this issue. The way any person is alleged of blasphemy without any proper investigation, without any proper proof, that should be noticed.

“This blasphemy law should be reviewed and there should be proper investigation mechanisms while applying this law. We should not consider anyone sinful for this act without any proof.”

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