Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman on death row in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy, is severely ill. Bibi’s lawyers are calling for her transfer to a prison in Lahore where she will be closer to her family and have access to proper medical care. Blasphemy charges against Bibi are a miscarriage of justice and yet another sign of Pakistan’s failure to respect religious freedom.
The U.S. must call on the Pakistani authorities to grant Bibi immediate medical attention and highlight that her case is a stark example of Pakistan’s failure to protect its religious minorities.
Heritage Senior Research Fellow for South Asia Lisa Curtis has said that “If Pakistan continues to fail to protect members of its religious minority communities, like Aasia Bibi, it will be increasingly difficult to argue against designating Pakistan a ‘country-of-particular concern,’ as called for by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.”
Bibi is said to be suffering from intestinal bleeding, among other potentially life-threatening health problems. She has been imprisoned in isolation since November 2010 after she got into an altercation in 2009 with a Muslim co-worker over sharing the same water bowl. During the dispute, her co-worker alleges that Bibi blasphemed the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Pakistan’s Lahore High Court upheld the death penalty for Bibi in October 2014. Her case is currently in appeals in Pakistan’s Supreme Court.
New reports delving into the once-sealed court record on Bibi’s case suggest significant divergences in the testimonies provided by witnesses alleging that Bibi committed blasphemy. One lawyer suggested that Bibi’s case, if it had been thoroughly reviewed by the court, should have been dismissed as a case of blatant discrimination against Bibi as a religious minority.
Moreover, a lynch mob affiliated with clerics placed a $5,000 bounty on Bibi. Her husband, Ashiq Maseh, has expressed concern that even if Bibi were released, she would be hunted down and killed. Fear of persecution is so great that Aasia’s family has gone into hiding.
Religious minorities, which comprise an estimated 5 percent of Pakistan’s population, face extreme persecution in Pakistan. The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom’s 2015 report on international religious freedom documented 122 incidents of sectarian violence between July 2013 and June 2014, five persons on death row and one sentenced to life in prison for blasphemy and the continued practice of forced conversions of Christian and Hindu women, among other violations. Bibi was featured in the report as an indicator of religious repression.
Since 2002, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) consistently called on the State Department to designate Pakistan as a “country-of-particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for its gross violations of religious freedom.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., an active proponent of international religious freedom, has advocated on behalf of Bibi. Lankford will speak at an upcoming event on religious freedom in Pakistan at The Heritage Foundation on July 28th.
The U.S. must continue to push for improvements to Pakistan’s poor track record on religious liberty, including calling for the immediate release of Aasia Bibi from prison.