LAHORE: The world may be abuzz with the news that Pakistan’s Supreme Court will take up Aasia Bibi’s petition later this week, but the 51-year-old Christian woman – who had been sentenced to death on charges of alleged blasphemy in 2010 – is not even aware of it yet.
Locked in a high security prison cell in Multan, Aasia’s only contact with the outside world is her family.
“We haven’t told her about the hearing in the Supreme Court yet,” Aasia’s husband, 52-year-old Ashiq Masih, told The Express Tribune. “In the prison where she lives alone, it is very dangerous to lose hope.”
“Her expectations will be raised when she gets to know about the hearing. So we haven’t told her yet,” Ashiq added. However, Aasia’s husband and their five children are anxiously waiting and praying for her release. This, they say, will be no less than a miracle for them.
Ashiq, who once lived happily with his family in the Ittanwali village of Nankana Saheb, has not returned to his hometown since Aasia was accused of blaspheming.
“I spent my entire life there. There were two homes of Christians there. Some 15 days after my wife was accused of blasphemy, we moved from that area for we feared our house would be burnt down,” he said. “Since then, I, along with my kids, have been living at different places in different cities.”
“My family has suffered a lot. We have lived in fear and agony and we want her [Aasia] to be freed. I have tried to raise my two young girls as best as I can but I certainly couldn’t fill the gap left by their mother’s absence,” Ashiq said.
“My daughter Esha was 10 years old, and her sister Esham was only nine when their mother was sentenced to death. They have grown up without seeing their mother everyday. She has already spent some seven years in prison,” he added.
“My wife asks me when she is going to get out and be with her family. She asks us to get things done fast but we have done whatever we could do.”
Ashiq said they have been contacted by no political party ever since Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti were killed for raising their voice against the misuse of the blasphemy law. “We still have to arrange for the lawyer’s fee. These are the things which we cannot share with Aasia,” he said.
Taseer had visited Aasia in her prison in Sheikhupura in November 2010. He was gunned down by his own guard Mumtaz Qadri on January 4, 2011 in Islamabad. Shahbaz Bhatti, who also opposed to the misuse of the blasphemy law and was in contact with Aasia’s family, was also killed in March the same year.
“I wish my mother is set free and we are able to live together again,” said Esha, who is now 16.
“Both of Aasia’s daughters are good in studies. We had to work a lot to get them emotionally stable when they came to us. They are fine girls and immensely miss their mother,” said Joseph Nadeem, who runs an education foundation and school where Aasia’s daughters study.
Aasia was sentenced to death by an additional district and sessions court in Sheikhupura on November 9, 2010 for allegedly committing blasphemy. The Lahore High Court upheld the session’s court decision on October 16, 2014.
Aasia has denied the charge. She told investigators she was being persecuted for her faith.
Ashiq claimed Aasia was accused of blasphemy over a quarrel. According to him the quarrel broke out over a glass of water. “Aasia at the time worked with some women in a Falsa garden in Ittanwali. A woman asked her (Aasia) for a glass of water. When Aasia brought the water in a jug for all the women, one of them said that she couldn’t drink water from the hands of a Christian. Between all this, a quarrel ensued between the women and Aasia. Four days later, a blasphemy case was registered against Aasia,” he claimed.
Interestingly, the incident took place on June 14, 2009 while the FIR was registered under 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code in Saddar Police Station Nankana on June 19, 2010. The complainant, Qari Salam, a local cleric, wasn’t even present on the occasion of the quarrel between Aasia and the women.
Napoleon Qayyum, a Christian rights activist, said justice should be served in Aasia’s case. “She should be allowed to live in peace,” he said.
“The Supreme Court will hear the case on October 13. We are all praying that day turns out to be lucky for us,” said Ashiq Masih.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 10th, 2016.