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As her religion faces persecution across the Middle East, a Christian woman explains why she faces hanging in Pakistan for the crime of ‘blasphemy’
To her neighbors, Aasiya Noreen “Asia” Bibi, a poor mother of five in the tiny village of Ittan Wali in central Pakistan, was guilty — guilty of being Christian in a nation that is 97% Muslim. For four years she has languished in a prison cell for this, facing death by hanging.Her new memoir, “Blasphemy,” was dictated to her husband from jail, who relayed it to French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet. Fifty percent of the proceeds the book will go to support Bibi and her family. Tollet says the situation is dire. Embarrassed by Bibi’s case but still refusing to release her because of angry protests by extremists, the Pakistan government has transferred her to a more remote prison, hoping the 42-year-old dies quietly behind bars, perhaps poisoned by another inmate. Already two government officials who have spoken out on her behalf have been murdered, including Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed by the Taliban. In this excerpt, Bibi explains the simple “transgression” that led to her plight.
Daughters of Asia Bibi hold a photo of their mother, who has been in prison for four years.
Chicago Review Press (2)
I’m the victim of a cruel, collective injustice.
I’ve been locked up, handcuffed and chained, banished from the world and waiting to die. I don’t know how long I’ve got left to live. Every time my cell door opens my heart beats faster. My life is in God’s hands and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. It’s a brutal, cruel existence. But I am innocent. I’m guilty only of being presumed guilty. I’m starting to wonder whether being a Christian in Pakistan today is not just a failing, or a mark against you, but actually a crime.
But though I’m kept in a tiny, windowless cell, I want my voice and my anger to be heard. I want the whole world to know that I’m going to be hanged for helping my neighbor. I’m guilty of having shown someone sympathy. What did I do wrong? I drank water from a well belonging to Muslim women, using “their” cup, in the burning heat of the midday sun.
I, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death because I was thirsty. I’m a prisoner because I used the same cup as those Muslim women, because water served by a Christian woman was regarded as unclean by my stupid fellow fruit-pickers.
That day, June 14, 2009, is imprinted on my memory. I can still see every detail.
That morning I got up earlier than usual, to take part in the big falsa-berry harvest. I’d been told about it by Farah, our lovely local shopkeeper. “Why don’t you go falsa picking tomorrow in that field just outside the village? You know the one; it belongs to the Nadeems, the rich family who live in Lahore. The pay is 250 rupee.