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Asia Bibi, married with five children, from Punjab province, was imprisoned for blasphemy
in 2009 – an allegation she denies. She was held in a tiny, windowless cell for nine years
before being acquitted in 2018.
On 14 June 2009, Bibi, a farm laborer, offered her Muslim co-workers some water but they
refused saying it was ‘unclean’ water, meaning it was touched by an ‘untouchable’, making it
‘haram’ (Islamic term for forbidden).
A heated exchange followed, with Bibi’s co-workers demanding that Bibi convert to Islam, to
which is alleged to have responded: “Jesus Christ died on the cross for me. What did
Muhammed ever do for you?” This led to a physical altercation.
Later, the co-workers complained to the local imam, who filed a blasphemy case against Bibi.
Word got around and some Muslim men beat up Bibi. Then the police arrested her.
At the first trial in 2010, Bibi denied making blasphemous comments – and there was little
evidence – but was she sentenced to death under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code.
At this point, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, made the first of several public appeals
against the unlawful detainment of Bibi. Then, in 2011, the governor was murdered by his
bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, who subsequently found guilty and executed in 2016. In response,
some radical Islamists hailed Qadri as a martyr and built a mosque in his memory.
Another man who spoke out against Bibi’s sentence, and the blasphemy law as a whole, was
Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs – and he was also murdered in
2011, with radical Islamists claiming responsibility.
Bibi’s attorney made several appeals to Lahore High Court. They lost their appeal in 2014,
but an appeal in 2015 suspended the death sentence pending an appeal at the Supreme Court
in Islamabad. After several delays, the Supreme Court finally heard Bibi’s case in October
2018 and acquitted her of blasphemy.
Since then, the radical Islamic group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has staged protests
calling for Bibi’s public execution.
Bibi and her family are in Pakistan, living in fear, but the government says Bibi is in a
government safe house with her husband.
TLP says it will end protests if Bibi is kept in Pakistan and her case heard again.