Pakistan: On Death Row for Blasphemy with Philippe Robinet, Ashiq Masih

Ashiq Masih, husband to Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death after being convicted of blasphemy, sits down with Philippe Robinet at the 7th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.

Full Transcript

Moderator: I just wanted to tell you that in this last session before lunch, that we have experienced a number of very unusual facts but you know that Human Rights Watch has been supporting Ms. Asia Bibi from the beginning. She has been condemned to death, she spent six years on death row in Pakistan. Her appeal was rejected a few weeks ago and the last chance that we have is that she would be pardoned from the Supreme Court of Pakistan. (Leon, can we give Joseph another headset?) So we are talking about Asia Bibi and blasphemy in a country where today there are 3,000 people who have been condemned awaiting sentences accused of blasphemy. 

Blasphemy in Pakistan is applied to non-Muslims. There is a Christian minority and a Catholic minority that is large and as Asia Bibi is part of this group and she has become an icon of what can happen concerning the law of blasphemy against the minority group. Her husband is here and this is extremely moving for us to meet with Sheikh, her husband, this is the third or fourth time that he’s left the country. He went to Spain and to Paris. It was quite complicated to have him come from Pakistan, resolving the visa problems, etc. So before we hear Sheikh, I would like to ask you to watch a video of Asia Bibi, where she herself, in her own voice, will recount what happened to her in 2009. This was recorded in 2010 when she spoke to Salman Taseer, the governor, who was killed because he allowed this video to be made. So we will now watch the video and then we will come back to you and speak to you.

Asia Bibi: They asked me to bring water and I said: yes, I will bring [it] to you.” And then they said would you like to convert to be a Muslim? And I said that no I am on my own religion, I am a Christian and we Muslim and Christians we are equal. And they said that our prophet will go alive to the heavens and what do you think about that. I said that I don’t know about this question, and go ask these religious questions from your religious scholar, who is called Kari and I don’t know what Kari understood about me. And then they brought me to the police station and I asked them that I am innocent, I haven’t done anything wrong, it’s not some sort of blasphemy or I am not blasphemous.

Moderator: Thank you. Asia Bibi is 48 years old. She has five children and for the past 6 years, she’s been abandoned in a cell in Pakistan living through terrible conditions. Strong international pressure was roused because it was a risk that she would be killed in prison so I would like to thank her husband once again for coming here today. Could you tell us when you saw your wife for the last time? How is she?

Ashiq Masih: It passed some weeks that I went there and she’s okay somehow. She’s not fine, we could not say that she’s happy there. But I can pray for her that she will be safe over there and she will come out from the prison.

Moderator: This is a grave charge, that of blasphemy, what would you like us in Europe to do?

Ashiq Masih: I am here to explain [to] you and, as you have seen on the short film, that what she was saying it’s really true story and I am very hopeful to all of you and all the human rights activists who are already helping me and all the people who want to work, and I am hopeful that you will help me. 

Moderator: We’ve heard a great deal about how blasphemy in Pakistan was one that divided Muslims and Christians in the country. Now how do things happen on a daily basis in Pakistan living with Muslims?

Ashiq Masih: We are living with the Muslims and blasphemy law is implemented on the Christians. It’s not all about the blasphemy, they are finding some fake reasons to implement that law and it’s a very difficult law.

Moderator: I would like to question [to] you. I knew that Joseph you’re in charge of a very important [endeavor] in Pakistan. You are working with young people in terms of education. Could you tell me what is the situation in terms of education, education versus blasphemy in Pakistan?

Joseph: We have a lack of opportunity. We have two campuses of the school where we are just our mission to uplift the Christian community and there are 350 students who are studying in my school. We are here to just talk about Asia Bibi’s case. I think [they] actually falsely implement the blasphemy case on the Asia Bibi and the blasphemy case is misused in Pakistan just to take their own crutches. As Asia Bibi is a poor woman and working in the falsa garden and there was the matter of just drinking water the ladies, as you [saw in] the video and as Asia Bibi personally giving the statement of herself. First, the ladies just ask Asia Bibi to [bring] the water and later they stopped her and they brought the water and they drink and they offered Asia Bibi to drink the water. And afterward, they asked Asia Bibi to convert into Islam and Asia Bibi said why should I convert into Islam and why you are talking about that? So similarly, the people are just misusing the blasphemy law in Pakistan just to take their own crutches and later on, after five days of the clashes between the ladies who are working in the falsa garden, they put the blame that Asia Bibi is just disrespecting the Holy Prophet Mohammed.  

Moderator: Lastly there has been international pressure that has been extremely strongly placed on the Government of Pakistan and judges of the Supreme Court. The Mayor of Paris recently announced that he was going to ask Paris to appoint her a citizen of Honor, an honorary citizen, as a very important leader in human rights causes. You’ve also been in Spain and you’ve also been told in Spain that there are people who support you. And if your wife is released one day, would you like to come to Europe?

Ashiq Masih: Yes I am hopeful and I pray to my g-d that she will be released one day and she will come back and maybe she will come here to talk about what passed with her. I am very thankful to Mr. Phillip, he helped us. And she’s in prison, she’s in a difficult condition, but she’s on her feet and she will continue she will do that.

Moderator: This is a struggle and we are going to all try to do whatever we can to put pressure on the United Nations, on the Government of Pakistan. We will sign petitions, and I know that there are initiatives to set up an international committee to help Asia Bibi for her freedom and her release and we will do our utmost so that this accusation of blasphemy will not be employed. It is not possible. It should not be that a mother of five could be accused of blasphemy because she drank a glass of water. And I would like to thank you, Leon and Hillel, and Anita as well, because every year for the past four or five years you have displayed the picture of Asia Bibi. You have done everything you could to broadcast the issue and I would like to thank you. And if it weren’t for you she would be less in the limelight. And I would also like to thank Ariella for her help although she’s living in the United States. Now if you have any information, perhaps you could tell us what the people sitting here today could do to help you.

Ashiq Masih: I would like to request all of my brothers and sisters [to] please help me. There are many expenses. As I am poor and I don’t have a sufficient amount to survive by myself as I have five children also. It’s very difficult to look after them and when I [take] them to the prison to meet with their mother they are crying and their mother is giving them hope and she is saying to them that one day I am hopeful that I will be released.

Moderator: I think there’s very little to add to that. I’d like us all to think of Asia Bibi and show our solidarity and we should realize how strongly we must fight against blasphemy, the crime of blasphemy, and we must do our best so that she will be freed. Now before we wind up, I would like to pay homage to Asia Bibi and Sheikh and I would ask you to rise in a sign of respect for them. Thank you.

Speakers and Participants

Ashiq Masih

Husband of Asia Bibi, first Pakistani woman sentenced to death for blasphemy


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