June 15th 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Anthony Albanese: NSW left factional warlord takes charge

EDITORIAL Religious freedom: the political and legislative challenges

CANBERRA OBSERVED Will Bill Shorten emerge from the shadows again?

FEDERAL ELECTION Queensland voted for jobs, life and country

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Keating's 'nutters': Don't blame the messenger

ECONOMICS AND SOCIETY Health policy is not immune from neoliberal infection

HUMAN RIGHTS Canada accepts Asia Bibi and family as refugees

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Families keeping the faith: the Benedict and other options

IDEOLOGY Feminist claims for equality, Part 1: The context

HISTORY OF SCIENCE Faith and reason and Father Stanley Jaki, Part 3: More on science and ancient cultures

LIFE ISSUES Families, youth boost crowd at WA Rally for Life

MUSIC Muse of delight: The laugh ascending

CINEMA Asterix: The Secret of the Magic Potion

BOOK REVIEW Pioneering aviator's flights and fancies

BOOK REVIEW Catholic resistance in a forgotten war

BOOK REVIEW AFA patron's long life of public service

LETTERS

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal, June 5-6, 2019: An account from the live streaming

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HUMAN RIGHTS
Canada accepts Asia Bibi and family as refugees


by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, June 15, 2019

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, but freed after an appeal to Pakistan’s Supreme Court was upheld in 2018, has left Pakistan to live in Canada, after Islamist extremists threatened to murder her.

Asia Bibi

Apart from international pressure, Asia Bibi owes her freedom to her courageous lawyer, who himself has faced death threats for defending the Christian woman, the judges of Pakistan’s Supreme Court, who also faced death threats, and the Pakistan Government, which assisted her to leave Pakistan.

The case arose in the Punjab, in eastern Pakistan in 2009. Asia Bibi, a farm worker, offered water to a number of her fellow workers. They refused to drink it, saying it was defiled because a Christian had handled it. A verbal exchange ensued, with Asia arguing with the other farm workers.

Subsequently, a number of her fellow workers filed a complaint with the local police that she had blasphemed against Islam and its founder, the prophet Muhammad.

Fewer than 2 per cent of Pakistan’s population of over 200 million are Christians. They have had to endure discrimination and persecution at the hands of Islamist zealots.

Extremism

Pakistan is also the home of the Taliban, an extremist Islamist and designated terrorist organisation, which, for a time, controlled neighbouring Afghanistan, and provided a safe haven for Osama bin Laden and his terrorist organisation, al Qaeda.

It was al Qaeda that staged simultaneous hijackings of U.S. aircraft in September 2001. Hijacked aircraft were flown into New York’s World Trade Center, killing almost 3,000 people. Bin Laden was living under cover in Pakistan when he was hunted down by U.S. Navy Seals, on orders from U.S. President Barack Obama. The Taliban remains a powerful force in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Asia Bibi was arrested by police following the complaint by fellow workers, and she was sentenced to death in 2010. She was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Article 295C of Pakistan’s penal code, which imposes death sentences for offences of defamation against Muhammad.

International Christian organisations and human-rights activists then began a lengthy campaign to have her conviction re-examined. Her lawyer, who is not Christian, took her case to each of the appellate courts.

He argued that the main complainant in the case, local Muslim cleric Moha­med Salaam, had not heard Asia blaspheme, and that his original complaint, known as a first information report (FIR), had only been lodged five days after the women’s quarrel. Her other main accuser, the owner of the field in which she worked, Mohamed Imran, had not been present at the quarrel either; he was away from the village at the time.

In 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, national minorities minister, were shot dead because of their support for Asia and criticism of what one observer called “Pakistan’s barbaric blasphemy laws”.

It took five years before Asia Bibi’s lawyer succeeded in having the matter considered by the country’s Supreme Court.

In the summer of 2015, Asia was granted leave to appeal her death sentence. Finally, in November 2018, she was acquitted of any wrongdoing and released from prison. But due to mass protests by Islamist extremists, she was barred from leaving the country as an appeal against her acquittal was launched.

Many people were killed during rioting against her acquittal.

On January 29, 2019, the appeal was thrown out and the Supreme Court upheld its decision to free Asia. She remained under government protective custody in Pakistan while two of her daughters were granted asylum in Canada. Secretly, Asia Bibi and her husband were allowed to follow them last month, about 10 years after the original allegations were made against her.

Appalling as this case is, 15 other Christians are at this moment facing death for blasphemy in Pakistan.

These include Sawan Masih, whose alleged blasphemy during a conversation with a Muslim friend in March 2013 resulted in the looting and torching of hundreds of homes within the predominantly Christian Joseph Colony in which he lived.

Another Christian couple, Shagufta Kausar and Shafqat Masih, were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to a Muslim man. They were sentenced to death, but have appealed to the high court in Lahore.

The couple, who have four children, are from Gojra, Punjab province, where Kausar was employed as a cleaner at a church school. A Muslim man in the city complained to officials at his mosque that he was sent blasphemous messages in English on his phone, and the complaint was passed on to the police.

The couple are illiterate and have argued that they could not send text messages in English. They also said the sim card used to send the text messages was bought in Kausar’s name after her identity card was stolen.

The plight of persecuted Christians rarely makes news, but their situation is desperate.




























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