An Open Letter to President-Elect Donald J. Trump: Pressure Pakistan to Release Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was sentenced to death for blasphemy after a dispute with her Muslim coworkers. She drank from the same water source they did.
Dear President-elect Trump,
Congratulations on winning the election. We are praying for the success of your administration in bringing restoration and renewal of democracy, freedom and prosperity to the United States, and in taking leadership in critical global issues.
Your recent phone call with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been widely reported in the media. In a statement released by Pakistan’s Press Information Department, you were quoted as telling Prime Minister Sharif, “I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.”
Mr. President-elect, we appreciate your desire to work on outstanding problems in Pakistan. From our perspective and in the belief of millions who helped you to win the election, one of those issues is Pakistan’s unjust blasphemy law. This law prescribes the death penalty for blasphemy against the Muslim prophet Muhammad and the Islamic faith, as well as for the desecration of the Quran. Christians, other religious minorities in Pakistan, and even Muslims have suffered unimaginable and egregious violations of human rights because of this law.
Many accused of blasphemy are never convicted, but are killed nevertheless, by jihadist mobs.
In addition to the initial problem — that such a law violates universal standards of religious freedom, freedom of speech, etc. — the law is used in a capricious and malicious manner. Accusations of “blasphemy” are most often untrue and no more than a means to inflict harm on a business rival, seize coveted property, or punish someone for being a Christian. But once the accusation is made, the Islamist fervor is ignited. Mobs try to kill anyone associated with the accused person and are known for destroying whole communities of vulnerable Christians. Many accused of blasphemy are never convicted, but are killed nevertheless, by jihadist mobs.
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, is one of victims of this law. Her case, in our opinion, epitomizes what is wrong with Pakistan’s blasphemy law. In June 2009, Mrs. Bibi was accused of blasphemy against the Muslim prophet Muhammad following a dispute with her Muslim co-workers. The argument started because Asia Bibi, a lowly Christian, dared to drink from the same water source as the Muslims. (Christians are treated as second-class citizens in such communities that are dominated by Islam.)
Mrs. Bibi was sentenced to death in November 2010, making her the first woman in Pakistan to face capital punishment for blasphemy. This outrageous verdict was condemned by thousands around the world, including high ranking Pakistani government officials. The Muslim governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, a courageous defender of human rights for people of all faiths, was a vocal critic of the unjust punishment meted out on Asia Bibi. On January 4, 2011, Governor Taseer was brutally murdered by his own security guard for his advocacy for the Christian woman. And on March 2, 2011 Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s only Christian state-level minister, was gunned down for defending Asia Bibi. His assassination had been preceded by death threats because Bhatti called for reforming Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
President-elect Trump, we understand the complexity of dealing with the blasphemy law in Pakistan. But we also know that your administration can take some practical steps to pressure Pakistan to release Asia Bibi and others imprisoned because of this law.
We urge you, Mr. President-elect, to make pressuring Pakistan to abolish its blasphemy law a matter of priority. The law has emboldened religious extremists and has become a source of constant terror against millions of religious minorities and others in the country.
May God bless you as you build your team and prepare to lead our nation.
With best wishes,
Faith J. H. McDonnell and Darara Gubo
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan in Washington, DC, and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007). Find her at theird.org.
Dr. Darara Gubo is a human rights activist working on behalf of the persecuted church, and is the author of Blasphemy and Defamation of Religions in a Polarized World: How Religious Fundamentalism Is Challenging Fundamental Human Rights (Lexington Books, December 16, 2014). Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org