Asia Bibi thanks for her freedom, regret for those still behind bars

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, listens to officials at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan. (Credit: AP Photo.)

Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman released earlier this year after a decade on death row facing blasphemy charges, has broken her silence, expressing gratitude for an international campaign to free her as well as regret for those still behind bars under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“My whole life suffered, my children suffered and this had a huge impact on my life,” she said in a series of voice messages in response to questions posed by The Telegraph.

The former farm laborer was sentenced to death in 2010 after being accused of blasphemy in a dispute with Muslim women in her village over a cup of water. Two Pakistani politicians, including the country’s lone Christian cabinet member, were killed for publicly supporting her and criticizing the blasphemy laws.

 Disappointed

“Sometimes I was so disappointed and losing courage … I used to wonder whether I would get out of jail or not, what would happen next, whether I would remain here all my life,” Bibi said.

“When my daughters visited me in jail, I never cried in front of them, but when they went after meeting me in jail, I used to cry alone filled with pain and grief. I used to think about them all the time, how they are living,” she said.

Bibi’s case drew support from Pope Francis and Christian organizations around the world. Last October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned her conviction, triggering violent protests and calls for the judges in the case to be killed.

She spent several months in legal limbo, living under protective custody while negotiations were underway to find her and her family a new home. Bibi’s daughters moved to Canada earlier this year, and she arrived in May after leaving Pakistan secretly.

Freedom secured

Her freedom was finally secured via mediation by a European Union special envoy named Jan Figel, a Slovak politician who also spoke with The Telegraph, revealing some aspects of the negotiations.

He held talks in Brussels with Pakistan’s attorney general, Anwar Khan, and Human Rights minister, Shireen Mazari. After Bibi’s release but before her departure, she and her husband Ashiq Masih were kept in government safe houses. While given a television and a smartphone, they were unable to venture outside.

Bibi said she’s hoping to move to a European country in coming months. During the interview, she thanked Pakistan’s Supreme Court for acquitting her, but said others also needed fair trials.

“There are many other cases where the accused are lying in jail for years and their decision should also be done on merit,” she said. “The world should listen to them.”

Review the Blasphemy Law

“I request the whole world to pay attention to this issue,” Bibi said. “The way any person is alleged of blasphemy without any proper investigation without any proper proof, that should be noticed. This blasphemy law should be reviewed and there should be proper investigation mechanisms while applying this law. We should not consider anyone sinful for this act without any proof.”

According to the U.S. State Department, there are currently 77 people imprisoned in Pakistan under blasphemy laws, most Muslims. In addition, most of those accused of blasphemy don’t actually make it to jail, but are killed by mobs.

Despite the hardships, Bibi expressed sadness that she had to flee without even saying goodbye to her father.

“My heart was broken when I left that way, without meeting my family. Pakistan is my country, Pakistan is my homeland, I love my country, I love my soil,” she said.