Christian woman who spent years on death row says experience was a psychological torture for her.
A woman who said she suffered “psychological torture” while in a Pakistani prison on blasphemy charges has called for her homeland to abolish its anti-blasphemy laws.
Asia Bibi, who was on death row for years after being accused of besmirching the name of the founder of Islam, called the laws a “sword” in the hands of the Muslim majority against the country’s Christian minority.
Bibi, who has settled in Canada after finally being freed by Pakistan’s highest court, said the near-decade-long separation from her daughters while she was in prison constituted “psychological torture.”
She spoke on Tuesday during a Zoom presentation of Aid to the Church in Need’s biannual Religious Freedom in the World report.
Pakistan is one of a number of countries where it is a crime to make disparaging remarks about Muhammad or Islam, or to deface sacred objects such as the Quran. In some places, the laws have been misused by citizens seeking revenge against Christian neighbors in personal disputes.
In June 2009, Bibi, a member of the lowest caste of “untouchables,” had a verbal dispute with a Muslim who lived next door to her and worked in the same fruit field as she did.
According to some reports, some Muslim co-workers, believing that a utensil had become “unclean” after it was touched by a Christian woman, refused to drink water Bibi had fetched for them. An exchange of harsh words between the two sides allegedly ended with Bibi uttering derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.
The accusation is widely suspected to have been trumped up, but public pressure, including a vocal element that threatened to assassinate Bibi if she were released, kept the case from being resolved.
Challenge to Prime Minister
Speaking from her home in Canada, Bibi addressed part of her remarks to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying, “Abolish the blasphemy law or prevent its abuse.”
Bibi also asked “the international community” to “enforce the right to religious freedom.”
Several other Pakistani laws also discriminate against Christians, she argued, bringing up the case of several girls, aged 9 to 14, who were kidnapped, sexually abused, forced into marriage and forcibly converted to Islam.
“If Islam teaches peace and harmony, how can the violence carried out in the name of religion against Christian girls and women be justified?” she asked.
Bibi also named several women who, when they tried to bring up allegations of sexual abuse to the civil authorities, were then charged with blasphemy by their abusers.
“Women are attacked, the abuser is free to roam the streets, and women are imprisoned,” she said.
During the report’s presentation, Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN Italy, announced Bibi’s plans to visit Rome in the coming weeks. Bibi said she hopes to meet with Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “who have supported me and appealed for my release.”