In 2009, a Christian woman named Aasiya Noreen (a.k.a. Asia Bibi, below) got in a fight with Muslim co-workers over shared water — they said it was unclean because Noreen was Christian. A fight began, during which Noreen said she would not covert to Islam, a statement her co-workers took as an insult to their faith and the Prophet Muhammad, and the bizarre argument led to incredibly serious consequences: A Pakistani judge sentenced her to death.
Despite conflicting testimonies and a complete lack of evidence for what happened, Noreen remained in prison for five years until her case could be appealed to the Lahore High Court (similar to a U.S. Appeals Court). Late last week, a two-judge panel issued their ruling:
In spite of protests within Pakistan and abroad against the country’s blasphemy laws, the Lahore High Court today upheld the death sentence for a Christian mother accused of insulting Islam’s prophet.
You’ve got to be shitting me… how is that even possible?
One possible explanation is that even the judges were afraid of what Muslim extremists would do to them if they ruled in Noreen’s favor — and for good reason:
Pakistan’s judges have occasionally faced the wrath of countrymen upset with their decisions concerning blasphemy. Judge Pervez Ali Shah, who gave the death penalty to the guard who killed Salmaan Taseer, fled Pakistan after issuing his decision. Justice Arif Bhatti, who had acquitted two Christians in a 1995 blasphemy case, was killed in his office in 1997.
The reaction from religious extremists to Noreen’s ruling was also telling:
The courtroom was packed with clerics and members of Islamist extremist groups who supported the prosecution, and they erupted in celebration upon hearing the two-judge panel’s decision to dismiss Bibi’s appeal.
“Let us celebrate by distributing sweets!” said one cleric who recited verses from the Koran throughout the almost two-and-a-half-hour court proceeding.
“I am very happy,” said Salem, the complainant. “The judges have given a verdict on merit, and Asia Noreen deserved it.”
A Christian is going to be killed for no good reason! Who wants cake?!
It would be laughable if it weren’t so shocking. This is the awful power of blasphemy laws; the victimless crime becomes a weapon of abuse and it’s the religious minorities who suffer. (By the way: This, and not making wedding cakes, is what real Christian persecution looks like.)
Noreen’s lawyers say they will appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, but there’s little hope that those justices, like all the others, will have the courage to do the right thing.
Groups like the Center For Inquiry are highlighting her case, and many others, and urging people to take action by writing letters to foreign leaders, contacting U.S. government officials, and just raising awareness of the problems.