Published: 10:01 GMT Standard Time - Thursday 25 November 2010
Spotlight on Pakistan’s "blasphemy law"
Country/Region: Pakistan, South and East Asia
The 45-year-old Christian mother of five has been held in custody since June 2009 after she was accused of making derogatory remarks about Muhammad - a charge she strongly denies. Aasia was sentenced to death on 8 November, sparking an international outcry. (For more details see Christian mother's death sentence for blasphemy)
The case has led to widespread calls for the blasphemy law to be abolished, with critics highlighting how it is used to persecute Christians and other minority faiths, and is also often exploited to settle personal scores. Though no-one has yet been executed for blasphemy, those charged are often subjected to months or even years of imprisonment, harassment and uncertainty while their cases are considered.
Human Rights Watch's Ali Dayan Hasan said:
The injustice and fear the blasphemy law spawns will only cease when this heinous law is repealed.
Pakistani government ministers have been making noises about amending the blasphemy law in light of Aasia Bibi's case. This has prompted protests from certain Muslim groups, who are threatening anarchy if the government pardons Aasia or alters the law. Previous governments that have attempted to introduce changes have succumbed to Islamist pressure and threats, abandoning their plans.
Aasia's case has brought the controversial law to the world's attention, but this is just one of the many examples of injustice that result from it.
CLAAS, a Pakistani Christian legal centre supported by Barnabas Fund, is currently defending a Pakistani Christian couple who, like Aasia Bibi, have been falsely accused under the blasphemy law.
Ruqqiya Bibi and her husband Munir Masih's plight, unlike Aasia's, has not attracted international attention.
Munir Masih and Ruqqiya Bibi
The couple, who have six children, were sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in March 2010 for alleged blasphemy offences. A case had been registered against them in December 2008 following an altercation between one of their sons and a local Muslim boy. The latter’s family severely beat Ruqqiya and other relatives, prompting the Christian couple to complain to the police. In response the Muslim father accused Ruqqiya and Munir under the section of the blasphemy law concerned with defiling the Qur’an. The more serious allegation of making derogatory remarks against Muhammad was later added to their charge sheet.
CLAAS is fighting for their release. At a hearing on Tuesday (23 November) Munir was granted bail and will be set free on Saturday (27 November); Ruqqiya's bail application will be heard by the High Court next week. The blasphemy charges, however, still hang over the pair.
Barnabas Fund has been campaigning against Pakistan's blasphemy law for many years. (See Pakistani Christians Fast and Pray for Repeal of Blasphemy Law).
- That the international pressure mounted on Pakistan since Aasia Bibi's case was made public will lead to the abolition of the blasphemy law.
- That Aasia, Ruqqiya Bibi, Munir Masih and all others currently being held under the blasphemy law will swiftly be cleared of all charges.
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