In the wake of Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Asia Bibi, the nation witnessed huge protests (until Friday after the government agreed to invoke a travel ban on Bibi) led by members of Pakistan’s far-right political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik. Asia Bibi’s husband, Mr. Ashiq Masih who fears the safety of his family members has sought refuge in three countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.
In a video message reaching out to the leaders of the respective nations, he appealed to President Trump first, and then to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister of Canada.
“Please help us, we are in trouble in Pakistan”, he requests to American President Trump. “I also request the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to help us, I also request the Prime Minister of Canada,” he added. In the video, he has also asked for help on behalf of his brother, Joseph Nadeem.
Protests in Pakistan had turned violent since Wednesday – the day Asia Bibi, who had been on death-row for eight years on charges of blasphemy was acquitted. Bibi’s lawyer, Saif Mulook has reportedly fled the country fearing his own life.
The Pakistani government has been able to subdue most of the protests after agreeing to bar Asia Bibi from leaving the country. And that leads us to the question – will Bibi ever be truly free?
What was Asia Bibi accused of?
Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani was accused of blasphemy – a very serious offence in Pakistan. On a hot day in 2009, while farming for berries, Asia Bibi was caught in a row with her neighbours after using a container to drink water from – the neighbours, who were Muslim women refused to drink water from the same container.
It has been alleged that in a heated argument, Ms. Bibi sharply criticised Islam and its leader, Prophet Muhammad, a charge she has denied. Soon enough, in 2010, she was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court on charges of blasphemy, the first woman in Pakistan to be given the death-row on blasphemy charges. The case garnered significant media attention and saw various marches in support for Bibi within Pakistan.
Who are the protesters?
The story of the protesters is intrinsic to the story – they are a far-right political party formed in 2015 and advocate for stricter blasphemy laws and desire ‘Sharia laws’ be imposed as ‘law of order’. Strangely, the party has its roots tied to the Asia Bibi case.
On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the then Governor of Punjab was shot 27 times by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri. , Taseer was a politician possessing liberal views and criticized Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws – in an interview earlier he had supported Bibi.
Qadri, a commando of the Elite Police force was a follower of the Barelvi version of Sunni Islam – a person who could not tolerate blasphemy against Islam. He was convicted by the Islamabad High Court and sentenced to death and hanged in February 2016. The TLP was founded out of a movement to support Qadri, and his views of Islamic Conservatism.
Note: The case has also been a witness to another death – Mr. Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs was also killed for presenting his views in support of Asia Bibi.
Therefore, amidst all these – a question remains to be asked. Even if Bibi is free, and can wonder the streets without state imposed restrictions, will she ever be truly free? Will the advocates of blasphemy allow her to walk freely? Or, will she simply have to flee?