Is Asia Bibi Pakistan's Dreyfus Affaere
Pakistan: Now there is a precedent Asia Bibi
The French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet was the first to draw the international community's attention to the Asia Bibi case. Through Asia Bibi, she realized how much injustice and violence is caused by the blasphemy law.
Anne-Isabelle Tollet tirelessly followed the development of the Pakistani Christian's situation and founded the Comité international Asia Bibi. After the 9-year struggle for freedom, Asia Bibi publishes the story of her imprisonment together with the journalist. «Church in Need (ACN)» spoke to Anne-Isabelle Tollet:
«Church in Need (ACN)»: Has the Asia Bibi case divided Pakistani society into two camps and had a lasting effect on the state of mind in your country, a kind of "Pakistani Dreyfus Affair"?
Yes absolutely. The topic divides. But I have to make it clear that in my opinion 50% of the Pakistani population is not in favor of Asia and 50% against Asia. The vast majority of Pakistanis are happy that this innocent woman escaped death by hanging. The radical Islamists who want vengeance are in the minority. But they make a lot more noise than the others. And you can't blame the silent majority for not saying anything. People know that the radicals are ready for anything. They kill, they attack family members ... For this reason it was necessary for foreign media to take up the case in order to change the fate of Asia Bibi.
But hasn't international media coverage put them in danger?
If the media hadn't made Asia's case public, she would be dead today, most likely murdered in her cell. But it is also true that we journalists, through our reporting, have made them a symbol for extremists to be eradicated. You had to be clever ... be able to keep quiet when it wasn't advisable to preoccupy yourself with her case. This is how the letter to Pope Francis was formulated, in which we asked him to intervene exclusively with high-ranking Muslim clergy.
Is Asia Bibi aware that she has become a symbol?
She became aware of this the moment she left prison. She is deeply amazed "how I, a little peasant girl, and a Christian at that, was able to become a personality that is known all over the world"? This is a heavy burden because it prevents them from remaining hidden. But their story helps the Pakistanis exposed to the blasphemy law. It is also a symbol of moral straightforwardness. Although she would have been freed on the day of her arrest had she converted to Islam and given up her family, she remained true to her belief.
So is there a precedent for Asia Bibi?
Definitely yes. The blasphemy law is not out of the world. There are more "Asia Bibis" in Pakistani cells right now. It is very difficult for someone from the West to imagine what this law means. It is a constant threat and can be invoked at any time to settle a dispute. Given the reality, the information on the number of people imprisoned seems ridiculously small to me. I don't think there is any way to get reliable numbers. However, since the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi on January 29, 2019, the prosecution has been able to turn against the plaintiff and this will have a significant impact on how often this law is invoked.
For media coverage, Pakistani journalists willingly refer to Asia Bibi when a new case is heard. They have become aware of the importance of the subject and it is becoming more difficult to make those suspected of blasphemy disappear.
How do Christians see the Asia Bibi case?
Christians are a tiny minority, three million out of more than 200 million people. They know that it is very easy for them to be targeted by extremists who also target Muslims who are suspected of being too moderate. The Christians can therefore not openly look forward to the release of Asia Bibi. But of course they have followed the development of the case and its outcome fills them with immense hope.
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