THE BLOG

Is a Pakistani Death Sentence for 'Blasphemy' Being Encouraged From London?

22/10/2014 11:35 BST | Updated 21/12/2014 10:59 GMT

This week, a death sentence against a Christian woman for "blasphemy" in Pakistan was upheld by the Lahore High Court, who rejected her appeal. Sadly the road to her impending death appears go through London.

Six years ago, Asia Bibi went to fetch water from a well in the field where she worked in the Punjab province. Her co-workers and neighbours clearly disliked her. This time, they told her that Christians such as herself had no place at a well exclusively reserved for Muslims. Backed into a corner and confronted unexpectedly, Ms Bibi is said to have compared the Islamic faith unfavourably to her own creed.

In any sane world, this dispute would have been recognised for what it was: an argument between co-workers, and no more. Instead, Bibi's co-workers reported the "incident" to the Pakistani authorities. In court, Ms Bibi was accused of a capital offence of blasphemy and sentenced to death accordingly.

This travesty of justice prompted one of Pakistan's finest politicians - governer of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer - to call publicly for her acquiittal. Taseer freely spoke his mind about his aspirations for progress and tolerance in Pakistan. Yet he was assassinated soon after he sprang to Bibi's defence.

Bibi's accuser Qari Salam began to have pangs of guilt, and hesitated about pursuing Aasia Bibi in court. Pakistan's Express Tribune reported in early 2012 that Salam was "convinced" not to change his mind - by a London-based organisation named Khatm-e-Nabuwat.

The Express Tribune explained:

"We will chase her through hell ... don't worry about the money, hiring best lawyers," Salam told The Express Tribune, quoting the son of Khatm-e-Nabuwat's London chapter's leader. The leader's son flew in to Nankana from London after hearing that Salam might not go to Lahore High Court (LHC) when the review petition against Aasia's conviction is taken up. [...]Salam said Khatm-e-Nabuwat had hired Mustafa Chaudhry as counsel to fight his case in the higher court, and were ready to go to an extent to seek death for Aasia.

Were this reputable Pakistani media report to be true (at the time of writing, there has been no public challenge to this version of events by Khatm-e-Nabuwwat), it would suggest that a London-based organisation essentially has a free reign to persecute an innocent Pakistani woman, and hound her to death, whilst British authorities look away.

Who is even holding Khatm-e-Nabuwwat's London office to account?

As things stand, an innocent lady will be hanged in Pakistan without committing a crime, whilst those who openly boast of "chasing her through Hell" and seek her death will not even be investigated in the UK.

Asia Bibi's situation is symptomatic of the global onslaught against Christians in this decade. Prince Charles remarked last Christmas that Christians are facing 'organised persecution' throughout the Middle East. Recently, Canon Andrew White lamented that ISIS are beheading Christians, yet people tend not to even believe the horrifying and harrowing accounts that White shares with his readers.

The proper response to the daily atrocities against Christians ought not to be helplessness, or shying away from the problem. The Asia Bibi case must cause us all distress. This distress ought not to be a lingering feeling that simply stays with the reader for a few minutes, until you get distracted. Rather, we should be sufficiently moved to sign petitions in support of justice for Asia Bibi.

We could be writing to our MPs, calling for any UK funding for Ms Bibi's tormentors to be investigated and cut off, via the appropriate channels.

Particularly in a Western society which considers itself post-religious and suspicious of organised Christianity, it feels untrendy and unnatural to many, to take up the cause of oppressed Christians. Now the hounding of Asia Bibi may in part be directed from London - a first-world capital city.

There is still time to make a difference and stand up for Asia Bibi, but now is the time to act urgently. We in Britain owe Salman Taseer the decency of amplifying his message.

Indeed, whilst a brave politician lost his life in Punjab for his principled stance on Asia Bibi.

the deadly ideology accusing Bibi seems to to flow freely out of London.