Asia Bibi’s Appeal to Save Child Brides

Testimony at Presentation of ACN’s Report on Religious Freedom

Asia Bibi © Vatican Media
Asia Bibi © Vatican Media

On February 24, 2018, the Colosseum was coloured in red to ask for the release of Asia Bibi, unjustly accused of blasphemy, based on the Pakistani Law. She was released a few months later. Asia Bibi, who now lives in Canada with her family, is regarded as an international symbol of religious freedom. She intervened in the presentation of Aid to the Church in Need’s Report.

Psychological Torture

With the help of her lawyer Shahid Mobeen, Founder of the Association of Pakistani Christians in Italy, Asia wished to highlight her situation and experience, not only of the past but also of the present. “When she was falsely accused of blasphemy, she was removed from everything, especially from her very young daughters. A psychological torture followed because of all that happened in prison: the accusations of other prisoners, the police’s attitude . . . it became a daily cross,” translated Mobeen.

When Asia was arrested, her daughters were eight and nine years old. The eldest is disabled. “Today her daughters are adolescents; in important moments of their life, their mother was not close to them and incidents happened of which they are still traumatized today. The handling of the girls’ life today is difficult; it’s as if the torture continued, even if now they have a least the happiness of being together,” continued Mobeen.

Appeal Against an Unjust Law

Asia Bibi appealed to Pakistan’s Prime Minister to modify the Law on Blasphemy “so that abuses could be avoided.” The best choice would be to abolish it, but at present it doesn’t seem possible. However, it’s a sword in the hands of the country’s majority, which is 95% Muslim. We Christians are persecuted by Law 295, but there are many other laws that discriminate against us and permit the persecution of Christians legally in the country.”

Kidnapped Adolescents, Forcefully Converted

Asia Bibi then reflected on the “condition of underage Christian girls forcefully converted to Islam when they are between 9 and 14 years old. They are kidnapped, raped, given in forced marriage to their kidnappers and, oddly, the same day they are converted to Islam.” Bibi appealed to the International Community for cases such as that of Huma Younus, kidnapped, converted and forcefully married at 14, and of Arzoo, just 12 years old, that a Court has removed from her kidnapper but ruled that she be guarded in a protection center, where, however, her parents are not permitted to meet with her.

Asia said that in “the centers, they carry out a work of conversion and, especially in cases such as that of Arzoo or Huma support kidnappers. I ask the Prime Minister: Does Islam allow all this?” Then, when we are in face of older women, cases of accusations of blasphemy are repeated, with physical aggression, such as the recent case of Tabita, a nurse of Karachi. “If Islam teaches peace and harmony, how can such violence be addressed, made in the name of the same religion?” wondered Asia Bibi.

“I Hope to Meet Francis and Benedict”

Asia Bibi, who in a few weeks will be in Rome — as ACN’s Director Alessandro Monteduro anticipated –, recalled the “sacrifice unto blood of Christian Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and also of Salmaan Taseer. The Muslim Governor of Punjab was killed because he went to meet <Bibi> in prison and said that “the Law on Blasphemy is black.”

Finally, she asked “International Authorities and those of Pakistan to be more united in making the first right of a human being respected: to exercise religious freedom. Otherwise, there will continue to be so many other Asia Bibis. I hope to go to Rome soon. I remember how Benedict XVI and Francis made appeals for my release, together with all of you. I thank you because, thanks to your work, we –, my daughters and my husband and I–, are alive and in Canada. I hope to be able to meet the two Popes and I thank them for their prayers,” she concluded.

The Situation in Pakistan

For his part, Professor Mobeen described the present situation in Pakistan, one of the countries in which the persecution of Christians is more violent. “Despite the Prime Minister and his party having come to power in 2018 and some positive steps forward been taken, the situation of religious minorities in Pakistan continues to worsen.” In addition to the notorious Law on Blasphemy, the “abuse of power — economic, social and psychological against Christian and Hindu girls is systematic.” And in the present historical framework, the risk is that Pakistan will tend to be transformed into an Islamic State.

The Law on Blasphemy is valid “be it against Muslims be it against minorities. However, if the accused is a non-Muslim, he is often the victim of lynching and extrajudicial killing,” said the activist. The number of accused is enormously disproportionate. “Of 1581 persons accused between 1987 and 2020, 786 were Muslims, 514 Ahmadi (a current of Islam, ndr), 235 Christians, 32 Hindus and 44 whose religion was not known. 49.7% of the accused were Islamic compared to 96.4% of the Muslim population. 49.4% belong to minorities that constitute 3.2% of the population. In the last year, the number of accused Christians has seriously increased, whereas that of Muslims has halved.”

In regard to kidnapped minors, Mobeen said that in Pakistan “the criterion to come of age is not the same everywhere and in some regions 14 or 16 years is sufficient.” Finally, he pointed out the importance and role of education. “Intolerance in the last four decades was created by education. They created the Mujahiddin; the school program supports Islamic fanaticism. There are even quotations of the Koran in mathematics and chemistry books.”

Cardinal Coutts’ Words

Finally, Mobeen quoted the words of Cardinal Coutts, Archbishop Emeritus of Karachi. “Kidnappings and forced conversions should be addressed on the basis of fundamental human rights, rather than making them a religious question. It’s the State’s responsibility to provide protection and ensure justice regardless of creed, ethnic group or social class.”

Religious Freedom Is Denied in 62 States of the World