Asia Bibi, a Christian, is facing a death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan. -File Image

by Xavier P. William

(May 24, Islamabad, Sri Lanka Guardian) The wave of terrorism and Osama Bin Laden`s killing has left the whole world doomed and glommed, it has not only cast a bad spell over US-Pakistani relations, it has also managed to sideline what was once considered to be 2010’s defining issues and 2011’s tragic and bitter realities: The status of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Caught up in the thrilling world of espionage, the media and the authorities seem to have forgotten that somewhere, a woman is still being held in custody under a controversial blasphemy law.Apparently we have forgotten about Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination. Collective silence over these killings showed government incompetence to tackle these issues and it also exhibit their intolerance and inability to understand fully and recognized the importance of freedom of speech, moral values and deprivation of basic human rights which has lead the common people to compromise even with the moderate opinions.

The Governor’s murderer was formally indicted on February 15 but nothing has been done to curb the sentiments that caused him to act out in the first place. The government is silent, failing to acknowledge that anyone suggesting amendments to the law has been threatened into submission. Self-professed ‘activists,’ prominent media persons and the exalted judiciary, too, seem to be focusing on ‘less controversial’ issues.

Salman Taseer`s daughter is also being threatened to speak against the Blasphemy law. Another voice speaking against the Blasphemy law Shahbaz Bhatti was silenced in Islamabad, the probe still continues without any solid breakthrough. The brazen assassination of Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad have not only shocked the Pakistani nation, but has also the whole world imbalanced. In one of his last interactions with the media, he seemed ready, and reconciled with his fate.Both leaders had been very vocal and were opposing the blasphemy law and they had been actively supporting for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy. Sherry Rehman (MNA) spoke up, she was threatened, Who would be the next on the list?

Dr. Paul Bhatti had been appointed as the adviser to the Prime Minister for Minority Affairs, he enjoys the status of a federal minister. The recent coalition between Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League (PMLQ) resulted in giving the portfolio for the Minister for Minority affairs to a member of PML Q and Akram Masih Gill being appointed as the State Minister has created an uncertainty on the status of the adviser to the PM.

In an address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, Benedict XVI urged religious tolerance, and in particular the repeal of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

"736 Parliamentarians from the European Union have signed a petition demanding the President of Pakistan to use his constitutional powers and amend the Blasphemy laws which has been misused to settle personal vendettas. Catherine Margaret Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union (EU) has also endorsed the petition. "

Mr. Haroon Barkat Masih the chairman Masihi Foundation the human rights organization leading Asia Bibi`s case said, "Asia Bibi is awaiting in her cell, she is weak and vulnerable but regularly fasting and praying for the Christians and the current situation in Pakistan. Despite the current situation in Pakistan she is hopeful, she is firm on her unshakable faith. There are greater security concerns due to post Bin Laden circumstances and the bounty announced by Imam Yusef Qureshi of Peshawar who has promised 500,000 rupees (around €4,500) to anyone who kills Asia Bibi still stands. Noting that this is contrary to the laws and the rule of law, the number of extra judicial killings in Punjab are the highest compared to any other province in Pakistan. Asia Bibi had been physically sick for a while, as she remain in solitary confinement and gets raw material to cook and eat. Ashiq Masih visits her regularly, Bibi starts her day by reading from the Bible and praying. Her family anxiously awaits for her to come back home."

Mr. Masih further states, "The extremists are killing all the sane, rational elements in our society. Justice, charity, love for all and acceptance for others has been totally vanished. People have developed a habit of seeing only single dimension. We need to consider everyone's opinions and views to promote a tolerant society which guarantees equal rights for all. Regardless of their gender, color, creed, religion, race and age. Encourage people to fight injustice and create harmony among diverse communities. develop sense of responsibilities to eradicate poverty, basic education for all and freedom of practicing their own religion without a fear.

Its time to embrace change because as it has become a fashion to condemn others who are not practicing the same faith or belief. I am afraid, a worst type of ‘extremism’ is developing across the globe. So called ‘moderate’ and ‘enlightened’ people also fall in this category. If you expect tolerance from people who have different belief, please learn to show tolerance towards them as well. When you allow religion to mix with the affairs of the state,this kind of barbarity results. Religion has no place in the matters of the state,it’s a private thing for every individual. The laws & policies of the state can’t be allowed to be taken over by religion,otherwise the nation will collapse into a sectarian disaster." 

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