Speaking from the Sheikhupura Prison near Lahore, Pakistan, Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman condemned to death under the country’s Blasphemy Law, is reiterating her innocence and says she trusts “God will hear my prayers and will help me get out of here and get back home to my family.”
In an interview published Feb. 20 by the Spanish daily, El Pais, Bibi recalls the beginning of her calvary and maintains that she is innocent of charges of committing blasphemy.
“One day I complained to a tax collector because he was allowing his animals to run free and they were damaging my house. He insulted me, and from then on he began a campaign against me,” Asia says.
A few days later, during her job as a farm worker, she offered a drink of water to her co-workers. “They told me they could not drink from the same jug as a Christian, and we began to argue, but I never blasphemed,” she insists, noting that five days later she was accused of blasphemy and taken to prison.
She is currently the only prisoner condemned to death among the 2,400 prisoners in the country. Ninety-five percent of those in prison are men.
Asia will mark two years in prison this coming June. She occupies a nine square-foot cell and spends her days reading the Bible. She cooks her own food out of fear she could be poisoned by Muslim radicals.
She agrees with her lawyers that the legal process is affected by pressure from Islamic fundamentalists.
“I did not commit blasphemy,” she says. “I would never speak against the Prophet. And I believe that God sees all and in the end things will be made right.” She thinks her case may be related to some of the difficulties experienced with other people in her town who discriminated against her family because they are Christians.
Asia says she suffers greatly because of the rumors of death threats against her family and that she terribly misses her twelve year-old daughter Isham. “She is my joy, she is a very good girl with a bright smile. It hurts me so bad not to see her grow up.”
Muslim extremists have offered more than $5,000 in reward money to anyone who assassinates Asia. Her husband is unable to work and her children cannot attend school, as radical Muslims have declared them to be targets.
“I have to confront this trial with patience and courage,” she tells El Pais.
Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law groups together a number of norms based on Sharia Law to punish any statement or action considered offensive to Allah, Muhammad or the Quran. Anyone can file an accusation of blasphemy without the need of witnesses or evidence. The accused are subject to immediate trial and, if found guilty, are sentenced to life in prison or death. The law is often used to persecute the Christian minority, which is subjected to exploitation and discrimination in schools and in running for positions of public service.