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'I'm Afraid She'll Be Killed Very Soon if Nothing Happens'

One summer morning in Pakistan, a Christian woman named Asia Bibi took a break from her fieldwork to drink a cup of cold water from a well. Since she was a Christian, the Muslim women there saw her actions as contaminating the water. Angered, the women began to argue with her. Bibi asked them, "I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind?"

Her question made the women furious. Bibi was beaten by a crowd and thrown into prison, accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death. She has been held since June 2009, and has become an international symbol of the capriciousness and cruelty of the Pakistani blasphemy law. Two Pakistani officials who spoke up for Bibi have been assassinated.

While deadly attacks on Christians over proposals to repeal the blasphemy law have now been replaced by reprisals over drone strikes, the effect on Pakistan's church is much the same. This weekend saw the deadliest attack ever on Pakistan's Christians—at least 85 people were killed and 100 wounded in a bombing of All Saints Church in Peshawar.

French journalist Anne Isabelle Tollet, serving as Bibi's ghostwriter, tells her story in Blasphemy: A Memoir: Sentenced to Death over a Cup of Water. (We're excerpting it today.) Freelance reporter Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra spoke with Tollet (before the weekend's bombing) about the blasphemy law in Pakistan, relationships between the country's Christians and Muslims, and the dimming hopes that Bibi will escape a martyr's death.

In order to be Asia Bibi's ghostwriter for the book, you had to tell the story in the voice of a woman you had never seen or talked to. How did you do it?

It wasn't easy. But I knew Pakistan ...

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Blasphemy: A Memoir: Sentenced to Death Over a Cup of Water
Chicago Review Press
2013-08-26
160 pp., $11.44
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'I'm Afraid She'll Be Killed Very Soon if Nothing Happens'
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