This blasphemy laws kills and convicts Muslims, too. It allows people to settle personal scores. The judge decides whether to convict or not, and the court in Asia Bibi's case was a local tribunal. That's why she asked the high court to take her case, because in the village the justice is not very fair.
The number of those charged with blasphemy in Pakistan was 647 from 1986 to 2007, and another 627 from 2007 to 2010. That's an enormous increase. Is it still being used at this accelerated rate? What can explain the increase?
Yes. It's true. Since the war in Afghanistan, religious fundamentalists don't trust the West. The West caused much damage in Afghanistan and even along the northwest border of Pakistan, so people don't trust them. (A Gallup poll showed 92 percent of Pakistanis disapproved of the American leadership in 2012.) For them, the West means Christians.
Religious parties have become more important in Pakistan, and new government, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is close with the Pakistan Muslim League, the country's largest political party. And the society believes maybe blasphemy laws could be a good way to be harder on Christians.
Pakistani officials have never officially executed anyone for blasphemy. What usually happens to someone accused of blasphemy? Are they released? Or do they simply disappear into prison?
It is not the government that kills you when you are condemned for blasphemy. It is someone on the street who decides to kill you. (About 50 people accused of blasphemy have been killed after being released.)
A few weeks ago Asia Bibi was transferred to a different prison. She's now somewhere very far from her family so it is very difficult for her husband to visit her. It takes 12 hours on a bus, and it's expensive and difficult. She's terribly weak. Her family has been offered asylum by France, but they don't want to leave her alone.
It seems Pakistan wants to push her case under the carpet. The best scenario for the government would be for her to die out of the public eye, and so I think it is a very good thing that other countries are talking about her tragedy.
World Vision In Progress announced in February that a Christian, Barkat Masih, was acquitted of blasphemy by Pakistan's supreme court. Do you think clemency may also be granted to Bibi?
In the summer, the new prime minister decided to execute everyone who was condemned to death. This was one of the first policies of his new leadership. Some 8,000 people who are awaiting the death sentence are in jail in Pakistan. He decided a few weeks ago to kill everyone. (The resumption of executions in Pakistan has been temporarily stayed.)
Even if Asia Bibi puts her case on appeal, she will be consumed by this, so I'm not very hopeful. I'm afraid she'll be killed very soon if nothing happens. She is a poor Christian woman, but because she became a symbol of the blasphemy law, even if the government says, "Okay, we'll release her," the Taliban and fundamentalists would go crazy and try to kill the man who decided to release her. Nobody wants to do anything about her because it's really dangerous.
But it's not a lost cause. The book was recently released in the United States, which sends money to Pakistan. Because of that, the United States could exert pressure on the Pakistani government.