Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Save Asia Noreen Bibi

     There are 2.8 million Christians in Pakistan, roughly 1.6 percent of the population.
Asia Noreen Bibi, 45, is one of them. She was sentenced to death by hanging on Nov. 8, 2010 under Pakistan's blasphemy because she defended her Christian faith.
     In 2009, Noreen Bibi was toiling in a field in the Punjab province. 
Her fellow farm workers were thirsty and Noreen fetched water and offered it to them.
They refused the water, calling it impure because she was a Christian. She defended her faith in Christ, they argued for Islam. Noreen allegedly asked "What has Mohammed done for you?" A perilous question. Apparently, in Pakistan, this counts as blasphemy.
     Despite the support of moderate Muslims, Noreen Bibi was sentenced to death for violating the blasphemy laws and lost her appeal. Pakistan's militant imams rallied their most rabid followers to demand her death. They put a bounty on her head. She was held in solitary confinement to protect her from Islamic zealots who might harm her before the hanging. Militant muslims sometimes kill Christians in Pakistan accused blasphemy during their trials, according to NPR's story on BIbi. They don't wait for the verdict. NPR reports that muslims, goaded by rumors about Christians blaspheming the Koran, torched several houses in 2009, burning several Christians alive in the Punjab province.

     Appalled by the impact of the blasphemy laws, the governor of the Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, visited Bibi and sought a pardon from Presiden Asi Ali Zardari  to spare her life. For this he was assassinated on January 4, 2011. A doctor later told BBC that Taseer had been shot 26 times with a submachine gun.  Time magazine reported  the murderer was one of the governor's own body guards, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri.  Quadri surrendered after the shooting and smiled as he was driven to jail. He told interrogators the killing was punishment for blasphemers.
     Time had interviewed Taseer before - he was inspiring leader for tolerant muslims: Taseer was a vocal liberal politician, who was the first to speak out against the treatment of Aasia Noreen, a Christian farmhand who had been sentenced to death under Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws. "These laws are used to victimize Christians and other groups," Taseer told TIME back in November. "They are a foul leftover from the military regime of General [Mohammed] Zia ul-Haq [which lasted from 1977 till his death in a plane crash in 1988]." The blasphemy laws have been condemned by human-rights groups for being so vaguely worded that they can be used as instruments of social and political coercion. The law says that anyone guilty of blaspheming against Islam and its Prophet will be handed a death sentence. Close examination of the many cases reveals the laws often being invoked to settle personal vendettas, or used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities. There was no evidence that Noreen, who is also referred to as Aasia Bibi, had committed blasphemy, according to lawyers familiar with the situation.

     The world has lost a good man. A good woman's life literally hangs in the balance.  President Zardari has ordered a review of the case. The Taliban claim that if Pakistan does not hang Bibi, they will retaliate. 
     Asia Noreen Bibi has five children. They and their father have been sheltered from reprisals by Christian groups in Pakistan. Those good samaritans have also been threatened by fundamentalist muslims organized in political parties. One imam allegedly offered 500,000 rupees to have Noreen killed in prison.

     We in the United States suffer from our own religious extremist movements - witness the murders of abortion doctors by "pro-life" extremists.  But Pakistan's moderates are disadvantaged by the blasphemy laws, which are an invitation for the mentally unstable and the sadistic to wreak havoc on innocent lives.
     We should not judge one another for our religious faith. Leave it up to God.
In the meantime, consider signing a petition to the Pakistan government urging a pardon for Noreen Bibi. All she did was offer water and ask a question.
What has Mohammed done for them?


Anonymous said...

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Fusion said...

Delighted to hear that. I've got a couple of deadlines to meet this weekend but hope to post more soon. Thank you so much. M