Aasiya Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman who spent almost a decade on death-row over blasphemy allegations in Pakistan, was finally allowed to leave for Canada. According to latest information received, Asia Bibi is now in Canada. Unfortunately her prison cell has a new resident: Yet another Christian woman condemned to death over blasphemy charges.
Aasiya Bibi (also known as Aasiya Noreen) a Pakistani Christian woman who was accused and later convicted of blasphemy - a charge punishable by death under Pakistani law - in 2010. Her neighbours alleged she insulted the Prophet Mohamed – a claim that she vehemently denied. Also two Pakistani Ministers who called for justice for Aasiya were assassinated - one in2011.
When she was acquitted (October2014), after years-long court battles, violence exploded on the streets of Pakistan, as extremists protested the judgment and called, not only for her execution, but those of the Judges who acquitted her as well.
In the aftermath of the protests calling for the killing of Aasiya, in April this year, Pakistan PM Imran Khan told the BBC, I can’t speak to the media about it (Aasiya Bibi), but added ‘I can assure you she is safe and she will be leaving in some weeks...’
In April 2014, Sri Lanka deported a British Buddhist woman for having a tattoo of the Buddha on her arm. There is no legal ban on a Buddha tattoo in Sri Lanka, but a court said the tattoo was an insult to the island’s main religion. An immigration officer claimed ‘some sections among the community could get offended.’
In the UK, the ‘Sunday Times’ reported earlier this week (May 2019), the Saatchi Gallery in London had to remove two paintings after receiving complaints from Muslims that the works were seen as blasphemous. The paintings depicted the shahada –the creed of Islam– over the image of a female nude.
The cases of Aasiya Bibi, the deportation of the British woman from Sri Lanka and the decision to remove the paintings by the Saatchi Gallery, raise serious questions around freedom of speech and freedom of expression. These examples also point to a ‘policing’ by religious zealots, of what we are able to express about our faith and religion. It also undermines the belief in the systems of justice.
What is even more sad or dangerous however, is the attitude so-called defenders of justice and democracy world-wide; the United States of America and the United Kingdom, when Aasiya Bibi sought asylum neither the British nor the Americans were willing to put their principles into action due to concerns of possible unrest and fear. Forbes reported ‘One of the most problematic aspects of Aasiya’s case occurred when her husband pleaded for asylum in Britain. He stressed that Pakistan was too dangerous for his wife and five children.
Yet Bibi was not offered asylum in the UK, due to concerns of unrest and fear of attacks that offering her sanctuary in Britain could cause. Britain is showing willingness to accommodate tolerance of the intolerant.
Even here in Sri Lanka, years before the Easter Sunday suicide bombings which led to the deaths of nearly 300 people, information was available to the country of a growing threat of violence militancy and radicalization emanating from particular Mosques in the country. Yet no positive action was taken to nip that issue in the bud calls for violence to be perpetrated by intolerant sections of our communities against their brethren of other communities. We too were bending backwards to avoid being labelled intolerant, and willing to tolerate the growth of intolerant faiths and beliefs in our midst.
The question, we, as people face therefore is, whether we are willing to tolerate intolerance in our midst or whether we are ready to stand up for our belief in Justice toward all, irrespective of our race, religion, nationality or colour.
In the words of Nikita Malika: ‘..who determines the boundaries of tolerance, and who polices the intolerant? These are important questions that need to be answered. In doing so, we must ensure the rights of those we need to protect are not jeopardized in favour of those who seek to harm them’.