10/06/2018, 15.01
PAKISTAN
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Last hearing for Asia Bibi next Monday

The Christian mother has been in Multan prison for nine years. According to her husband, “she is ready and willing to die for Christ. She will never convert to Islam." Groups of fanatics who do not want the abolition of the blasphemy law are holding the country at a standstill.

Multan (AsiaNews) – Asia Bibi’s last hope lies with Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The Christian mother of five has been languishing in solitary confinement in Multan prison (Punjab) for the past nine year after a court sentenced her to death for blasphemy. Next Monday, the Supreme Court is set to hear her final appeal.

Members of Bibi’s family took part at in an event on Thursday organised by Aid to the Church in Need at The University of Lancaster, Lancaster (UK).

After questions from the president of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih said, “She is psychologically, physically and spiritually strong. Having a very strong faith, she is ready and willing to die for Christ. She will never convert to Islam."

In Pakistan, the story of the Christian woman is a very sensitive issue. Asia Bibi was arrested in June 2009 after some farm workers accused her of showing contempt to the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, her only “fault” was drawing water to drink from the same container used by Muslim women.

After her trial, she was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010. Since then, she has been in solitary confinement in Multan prison and is allowed one hour of open-air time, three times a month.

Since her incarceration she has been ill several times. Her jailers, who have come to know her, say that she has not been able to receive adequate medical treatment.

BPCA president Wilson Chowdhry said that she “is now rarely visited by her family, which may be due to heightened security risk or inability to cope with the depression or dementia-like symptoms” she is suffering, which goes against “public statements of Asia Bibi's health and assertions that she is being treated well”.

For Chowdhry, there is “hope that her release will result in serious counselling and health care that she most definitely needs.”

Since it started, the story of the Christian mother has polarised Pakistani society and led to more violent episodes, not only against Christians, but also towards Muslims who express support for her.

The best known case is that of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, who was murdered in 2011 by his bodyguard because he had criticised the country’s blasphemy law and had offered to ask the president of Pakistan to grant Bibi a pardon.

Over the years, her appeal was postponed several times for security reasons and because one of the magistrates had pulled out of the case.

Next Monday, Bibi’s case will go before a three-member panel of the Supreme Court, chaired by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar with Justices Asif Saeed Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel.

Card Joseph Coutts, who recently spoke to AsiaNews, noted that the country is at stalemate. "The government,” he said, “is not strong enough to change the blasphemy law.”

In fact, “Every attempt to change it must necessarily go through the Parliament, and clash with extremist groups that use violence and terrorism to push their agenda in favour of a fanatical and narrowminded Islam, politicising society against anyone who expresses different opinions."

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