No case highlights the fervour and frustration associated with blasphemy more than that of Asia Noreen (better known as Asia Bibi), the Pakistani Christian woman who was falsely accused of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2010.
Throughout Bibi’s protracted legal case, the worst instincts
of certain sections of Pakistani society were brought to the fore and played
out in national and international media as Islamist groups staged violent
demonstrations calling for her execution on multiple occasions, even after her conviction
was overturned by
the Supreme Court in 2018. Following a nine-year ordeal, Asia Bibi
and her family were eventually taken to Canada to start a new life, but for many
other victims their fate is less hopeful, and they are left languishing under
long jail sentences, prolonged when cases are adjourned without hearing.
In the run-up to Human Rights Day on 10 December and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on 9 December, CSW has been speaking with HRDs across South Asia to find out what it means to be a FoRB defender in the region.
Fatima Atif is a human rights defender working in Pakistan:
“Pakistan has a population of over 210 million people, with a wide range of ethnic, religious, sectarian and tribal identities. This diversity makes Pakistan a challenging place to live, particularly for those who are in minority and have limited say and access to decision and policy-making forums.
I have worked as a human rights defender in Pakistan for 15 years. I have regularly faced bullying and online harassment for my work, as well as for being a female Hazara activist. (Editor’s Note: The Hazara are a minority community in Pakistan who adhere to the Shi’a branch of Islam).
The security situation in the country is volatile and there are multiple rival armed opposition groups fuelling armed conflict in different regions of the country. In this tug of war, only innocent citizens have been brutally killed and victimized.
‘For 65 years we have tolerated aggression against us so something must have drastically gone wrong that day for that to happen.’
Walking into Youhanabad on the outskirts of Lahore you notice the busyness of life; children playing, street vendors selling fruit and delicious fried snacks and motorbikes and scooters whizzing pass. Two years ago that the scene was transformed – chaos, carnage and confusion ensued on the morning of Sunday 15th March in 2015 when two suicide bombers approached Christ Church and St John’s Catholic Church and blew themselves up killing 15 and injuring around 70 people. After the bombing a mob was instigated, protest turned into violence and violence resulted in two people being lynched.