Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do! | Pakistan Today

Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do!

LAHORE: Aashiq Masih, with his stooped posture, frail body and dull yellow eyes, stands in a small compartment with his three daughters, Sidra, the eldest, followed by Eesha and Eeshum.
The girls are weeping silently. On the other side of the metal grille is Aasiya, the first woman to be given the death sentence for alleged blasphemy.
Eeshum, about twelve years old, whines like a baby for her mother, asking her when she will be back. The child suffers from retardation and has twisted limbs too. She and Eesha – who is even younger, do not seem to comprehend the seriousness of the situation.
“I will be back,” says Aasiya to her two daughters, their only form of touching is to feel each other’s fingers through the holes in the grille. “Don’t you worry, now,” she coos. But inevitably tears run down her face too.
FALSE ACCUSATIONS: Aasiya, arrested on June 19, 2009, was accused of blaspheming against the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and defaming Islam. According to Aasiya the incident had occurred because of a ‘planned conspiracy’ to teach her a lesson, as she and her family were not liked by the people of their village Ittanwali, near Nankana Sahib.
Today she is locked up in the Sheikhupura District Jail in solitary confinement, and only slightly more conditioned to being in prison than before.
“The first three months were terrible,” she recalls. “I was in severe depression and mental stress. I only spent my days weeping and worrying. Now of course, I have gotten as used to being in a prison cell as one possibly can,” she said.
“What my village people have accused me of is a complete lie,” she said. “I had previously had a row over a trivial issue of water running out of my house onto the street, and a man called Tufail had abused me filthily. That was about eight days ago. On the 19th, when I was out picking falsas with about thirty women, they as usual asked me to convert to Islam.”
According to Aasiya, the women of the village very frequently asked her to renounce Christianity, and she had refused each time. “This time too I said that I saw no reason why I should leave my own religion. They then asked me about my prophet Jesus, and I told them to go and ask the local cleric and not to bother me with those questions,” she said.
Upon this, one of the girls asked for water and when Aasiya got her some, the others dissuaded her from drinking water brought in by an ‘untouchable’ and a ‘dirty woman’. Later, they along with the local cleric Qari Saalim, went and registered an First Information Report (FIR) at the Nankana Saddar police station. This was in itself a false complaint, says Aasiya, because the complainant was never present at the scene.
Sidra is traumatized by the incident. “I saw that mob burst upon my mother, slap her and beat her up, I saw them push her hard against a wall, and tear her clothes,” she said, her eyes are sad and even fearful, of remembering that day. “They were abusing her. I went to free her from their grip, and I heard them say to my mother ‘tell us you desecrated our religion, and we will leave you alone’. Why would my mother ever do anything like that?” she asks.
“Why was an FIR filed against me by that man Qari Saalim? Who was he? He doesn’t even know what I said, or did,” Aasiya questions.
Meanwhile, even her children have been bullied by others from the village. Eesha has been beaten up by a man who has two children of his own, says Sidra. Ever since her conviction on November 8, 2010, Aasiya says she is heartbroken and shattered.
HER SIDE OF THE STORY: “I don’t know why…when I walked into court that day, I just knew,” tears return to her eyes and her voice starts shaking again. “And when the judge announced my death sentence, I broke down crying and screaming. In the entire year that I have spent in this jail, I have not been asked even once for my statement in court. Not by the lawyers and not by the judges. Since after this, I have lost hope in any kind of justice being given to me,” she says.
Her husband consoles her instantly, placating her as if he is in a state of denial and does not want to hear her hopelessness. “But how can an innocent person be accused, have a case in court after a framed FIR and then be given the death sentence, without even once taking into consideration what he or she has to say? Hope has become completely futile for me,” he says.
Surprisingly, she says the police did not touch a hair on her body. “I was never even mentally harassed by the police,” she says. But a local Christian NGO activist says the reason might be because the case was sensitive already and any kind of police torture would instantly come to the forefront.
“The Christians are in a terrible state in these villages and the majority of them are labourers,” he says shaking his head miserably. “Last year was the bloodiest period for us, with the several attacks on churches and the community, and the horrific attacks in Bamniwala, Gojra, and Kasur,” he said.
Meanwhile, I A Rehman, a human rights activist says that too many people have been convicted of blasphemy this year. “I can give a rough figure of about 15 for 2010,” he told Pakistan Today. “The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan is completely against this law and has asked for it to be repealed several times,” he says.
At present however, no NGO, representative of the government or any other authority, least of all the religious party representatives have protested about this issue. While religious parties choose to ignore it, NGOs are still toying with it. Most have not planned any protest as such, while HRCP says that it would have more hopes from the higher courts, rather than the trial court.
“We do not expect much from trial courts, but it will become more of an issue even for us when the case starts in the High Court,” says a member.
A case of high priority: Shahbaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities, and Chairman of the All Pakistan Minorties’ Alliance, has sent a letter to the Government of Punjab, saying that Aasiya and her family should be given protection inside and outside jail. He also said in the letter that this case should be taken into consideration as a matter of the highest priority.
“We are trying to work with religious elements regarding the Blasphemy Laws, which has become a nuisance for both innocent non-Muslims and Muslims who are framed on the basis of this law, by their enemies only for their personal prerogatives,” said Bhatti.
“No case has ever been proven against minorities in the Supreme Court,” he said. “We will not allow any more members of minority groups to lose their lives by being sent to prison on false charges,” he added.

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