Human rights organisations are shocked by statements by Asia Bibi, the woman who was the symbol of the fight against the blasphemy laws in Pakistan in recent years. “I have nothing against the law or my country” Bibi said in an interview with Voice of America. With that she seems to stand up for the blasphemy laws in her country. She also distances herself from the book that the French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet wrote about her.
Bibi (49) spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy. The Christian woman was arrested in 2009 for insulting the prophet Mohammed. A year later she was sentenced to death. Partly as a result of Tollet’s efforts her case came to the attention of the world.
After a lot of international pressure and interference from, among others, the Pope and Amnesty International, she was acquitted by the Pakistan Supreme Court in 2018, to the outrage of Islamic extremists who threatened to kill her. Bibi’s lawyers and the judges of the Supreme Court were also threatened with death.
After her release Bibi fled abroad. At the moment she lives at a secret location in Canada.
“Law hasn’t done it
In January her biography, ‘Finally free’, was published. It states, among other things, that “the law has put a noose around her neck”. But: “Tollet blamed the law,” Bibi says now. “The law didn’t do it. People in the village wanted to kill me for no reason, it was an incident. There are good and bad people everywhere.” She also says, “Absolutely, the law is good, but people take advantage of it. The world is the guilty one, not God.”
The statements are remarkable, because Tollet visited Bibi after her release in Canada. During a press conference last February, Bibi also said she was seeking asylum in France, so that she could live closer to the journalist.
Biographer Tollet said in a reaction that she was “speechless” and “can’t believe that she defends blasphemy and the extremists who only want one thing: that she hangs” According to her, Bibi has psychological problems after nine years of imprisonment and would like to return to her homeland, where her five children are.
Organizations and churches that have campaigned for her release are stunned: “Bibi is under pressure in Canada to say certain things,” says one of the founders of the Christian Liberation Front in Pakistan. “Dangerous”, he calls her statement. “Billions have been spent for her freedom. She has forgotten everything, but we will continue to demand reforms and abolition of the blasphemy law”.
“She has stabbed church leaders, martyrs and human rights defenders in the back,” said a Christian pastor from Karachi. “The interview clashes with her earlier statements. She’s forgotten who destroyed her family.” He thinks Bibi is under threat, so she cannot continue her fight against the blasphemy laws.
Klaas Muurling, spokesman for Open Doors, also took note of the interview with amazement. The organisation is committed to persecuted Christians worldwide and also took action for the release of Bibi. “Don’t forget that ten years ago Asia Bibi was a berry picker, a poor agricultural worker. Now she’s a celebrity. But she has been on death row for nine years, can no longer live in her own country, although she has been wrongly accused.”
According to him she is also under great pressure: “You often see that fugitives from Pakistan cannot ground themselves abroad. They want to go back, they are so connected to their country that the desire to live there is very strong, but that is not possible. She’s been acquitted, but she’s still outlawed.”