The Asia Bibi case shames Pakistan’s government – and Britain’s

Salman Taseer, right, Governor of Punjab Province, listens to Asia Bibi, left, at a prison near Lahore. Bibi continues to deny blasphemy charges on which she was convicted to death in 2010 (AP)

Regular readers of the magazine will not have forgotten the plight of Asia Bibi, the Christian Pakistani woman who has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for the last seven years for the supposed crime of blasphemy. Tomorrow the Supreme Court of Pakistan will hear the final appeal in the case: it may, if there is any justice in Pakistan, order her acquittal and release; but it may also allow her hanging to go ahead. We must hope and pray that she is spared.

The case illuminates not just the cruel and unjust treatment that has been the lot of Asia Bibi, but also shows us just what is wrong with Pakistan.

First of all, Pakistan is a Muslim state that persecutes its Christian minority. This persecution happens on several levels. On one level, Christians are constantly at risk of terrorist and mob violence. But on another level entirely, Christians have no real protection from the law, which is emphatically not the same for everyone, as the blasphemy laws illustrate. In other words, the Pakistani state effectively sides with and encourages anti-Christian terrorism and mob violence.

Secondly, the powers that be in Pakistan are too frightened of the Islamist forces in the country to do anything about the blasphemy laws, which enable Islamic extremists to victimise Christians (and other believers and atheists as well.) This tells you everything you need to know about Pakistan’s usefulness as an ally of the West and its credentials as a liberal state. If indeed the Supreme Court orders the release of Asia Bibi, the backlash will be considerable, all agree. But what sort of Supreme Court allows itself to be blackmailed in this way?

But if we point the finger of accusation against Pakistan, as we must, they are not the only ones at fault here. The British government has made no real protest about the blasphemy laws, as far as I can see. It would seem that this sort of thing does not bother them; if that is the case then it exposes the hypocrisy of our government’s claim to have an ethical foreign policy. The British government should disrupt relations with Pakistan; other nations should also show some initiative; at the very least Pakistan should be expelled from the Commonwealth, and reprimanded by the United Nations. Hanging people for religious offences, especially offences against religions they do not believe in, is simply not on.

Meanwhile, kudos to The Guardian for reporting this case over the years, and to the National Secular Society for also raising the topic and keeping it in the public eye. But from other quarters, the silence is, as they say, deafening.

If Asia Bibi is released soon, as she certainly deserves to be, she will then be the object of much Islamist persecution and her life will be at risk. It would be a good thing for some country where Christians can live in peace to offer her and her family sanctuary. There are at least two precedents for this, both involving Italy. Both those cases tell us something unpalatable: there are many Muslim-majority countries in the world right now where it is very dangerous to be a Christian. Isn’t that something that should concern our Muslim brethren?