8 years of grey walls

It was rumoured that Khadim Rizvi and his band of monkeys wanted an instant hanging of Asia Bibi as one of their demands. Could be false but I am sure none of us can question that her hanging will make people happy. For them, she is as evil as it gets after all it was due to her that their sainted Qadri had to die. The vengeful beards now want nothing less than her death and in this longing, they are ready to burn anything that comes their way.

Asia has been in jail for 8 years now, most of them in solitary confinement. Pause and try to imagine that. Imagine endlessly staring at grey walls and being constantly abused by the warden, the one human face you are allowed to see. Imagine knowing that you are in solitary confinement, an 8x10 block of a room, not because you deserve this brutal punishment but because it is the only way to save you from fellow prisoners who too, much like everyone outside the walls of the jail, want to kill you. Imagine having to cook your own food for any other cook will to poison you. Imagine being so hopeless that the turmoil of events numb you. Imagine being in a situation where a quick death proves more comforting than the impossibly minuscule hope of eventually staying alive. 

In 10 days Christians all over the world will celebrate Christmas. I can’t help but wonder if Asia will make herself something special that day. I wonder if she will comb her hair that day and if she will get a chance to speak to her children. Would anyone wish her a Merry Christmas? Would she smile?

It might seem unfair of me to pity a criminal. However, I don’t consider her a criminal at all. Not just me, ask any lawyer who dons the black coat and they would have to agree that her punishment makes no legal sense. Her trial was far from fair, such trials barely are. Most importantly she is a victim of a law that is inhumane and insensible. No matter how much the beards insist and try to intimidate any expression to the contrary, the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan are not rooted in Islam but are a mere remnant of the country’s colonial past. The Laws were first made part of what was to eventually become Pakistan’s constitutional instrument, after the mutiny of 1857. Due to the religious tension, the polity at the time, introduced a ‘Blasphemy Law’ in the Indian Penal Code. Derived wholly from the English Common Law, the Law instructed both the freedom and respect of one’s religious beliefs. This version stayed in this form from 1860 to 1929 when Ilm-ud-din infamously murdered Rajpal, the publisher of a blasphemous book. As there was no punishment dictated in the original version of the Law, article 295-A was added which awarded ‘imprisonment of either description of 2 years or fine or both’ to the guilty. This particular version was inherited by Pakistan on its birth in 1947 with the imprisonment now increased to 10 years. In 1974, Zulifqar Ali Bhutto, to gain support for his version of the constitution, gave into the long-standing demands of the religious right by declaring the Ahmaddiya community as non-Muslims. This was the second amendment to Pakistan’s constitution. The dictator Zia-ul-haq, who succeeded Bhutto, further added injunctions to the Laws, making them more far-reaching and stricter. In 1982, an additional Law was imposed regarding the discretion of Quran. In I986, a similar Law was added for cases of insult to Prophet Muhammad. These, together with the increase of imprisonment from 10 years to life, formed Article 295-B of the Law. Later, 295-C was added, which phrased the punishment as ‘life imprisonment or death’. The option of life imprisonment was later challenged in the Federal Shariat Court, a parallel judicial institution formed by Zia, and was deemed ‘repugnant’ and taken away, leaving death as the sole punishment. In the nearly 3 decades that have followed these last amendments, the Law has not changed and all efforts towards their revision have been aggressively silenced by the orthodox elements within the society.  

Today we chose to banish Asia and many along her to fates that are based on misguided perceptions. We chose to stay silent as beards, and authorities that are too afraid to challenge them, subject hapless people to slow and painful decays. I don’t know how we, as a society, have the gall to call ourselves as humans. For many years and indeed for many, many years to come, I will often wonder how we, as a nation, chose to stay silent over the blasphemy laws.

The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.

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