12/14/2012, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Dialogue with Islam to save hundreds of Asia Bibi, Paul Bhatti tells AsiaNews

Dario Salvi
The federal minister and APMA are ready to help Asia Bibi but the family has not asked for it or for legal protection. To avoid abuses in the name of the blasphemy law, dialogue with Muslims and Pakistani society is necessary. Some NGOs and groups in Pakistan are using the case to raise money.

Rome (AsiaNews) - In order to achieve a positive outcome in the Asia Bibi case, it is necessary to promote "dialogue and exchange with the Muslim community," said Paul Bhatti, special adviser to the prime minister on national harmony (with the status of federal minister). Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that this means seeking "forgiveness" to allow her to leave prison safely. In Pakistan, the message must be that "being Christian does not mean belonging to the West." It also means "working to prevent "abuses in the name of the blasphemy law." The Christian mother of five was in fact sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad and is waiting for her appeal trial.

As Christmas approaches, many Catholic organisations and groups paused to remember the Asia Bibi case, seen as a 'symbol' of the abuses inflicted upon the Christian minority in the name of the blasphemy law.

Paul Bhatti, who was instrumental in getting Rimsha Masih acquitted, said that the country has seen many other similar cases. In his view, all the people involved deserve to be freed from false accusations. And this must be done in such a way to avoid a frontal clash with Muslims and Pakistani society. "The international community must help the country to produce a small but radical change," he added.

Contacted by AsiaNews by phone, Bhatti stressed the importance of exchange and interfaith dialogue in Pakistani society as the bases for "full respect of human dignity and freedom."

It is necessary to focus on "shared values" and denounce the distorted ways the blasphemy law is enforced, "abused, in some cases, to settle personal scores or vendettas."

Starting in the mosque or church, the shared goal must be the "defence of human beings". For this reason, the federal minister calls for support to "my work and that of APMA," the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, created by his brother Shahbaz, who was murdered on 2 March 2011, among other things for coming to Asia Bibi's defence, and hosting her family whilst she was in prison after she was sentenced to death.

Since the Minority Affairs minister's assassination, Asia Bibi's family has been protected by groups and NGOs that have not always acted "in her interest," or managed funds transparently. In some cases, her tragedy has been used for material gain, with APMA and the ministry pushed to the sidelines.

"I am ready to help them," Bhatti noted, "but they must make an official request; otherwise I have no grounds to intervene."

Another thing that must be done is shed light on the flow of money from the international community that is not always used for the purpose indicated. This is the true in Asia Bibi's case.

For Bhatti, a Catholic who lived in Italy for many years, "in Pakistan Christians and Muslims have some room and leeway to engage in exchange and dialogue".

"We must step into this reality," he explained. "I too had a negative vision in the past." Now whatever room and margins that might exist "must be used and experienced. In the past, I was viewed as a Western spy; now many things have changed."

After talking to radical ulema and imams, Bhatti has established a relationship that now includes discussions and invitations to mosques.

"Their approach has totally changed. This is cause for hope because only through dialogue and exchange is it possible to solve problems together."

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