Grant Asia Bibi asylum; renew an international commitment to human rights
By Majed El Shafie
The plight of Asia Bibi should be a wakeup call to the world on the precarious state of Pakistani society. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm an international commitment to human rights in the face of mounting tensions and the erosion of global norms. Asia Bibi spent eight years on death row resulting from blasphemy charges before being released earlier this month with acquittal from the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Given the violent reaction to her release, it is clear that the world’s human rights leaders need to mobilize to grant Asia Bibi asylum in a western country. Failure to do means her life will be in jeopardy.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law has long been problematic and violates fundamental human rights. It is used and abused as a tool in personal disputes, including against Muslims, but it also entrenches the persecution of religious minorities throughout the country where human rights abuses are rampant and mob rule is far too common.
Compounding the problem, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a deal with the radical Islamic group Tehreek-i-Labbaik to bar Asia Bibi from leaving the country. This is the same group that was previously calling for her to be executed. They and many others have reacted with violence and riots throughout the country. The already vulnerable Christian minority community in Pakistan has experienced attacks on churches in three Pakistani cities.Kowtowing to extremists as Prime Minister Khan has done further emboldens them to act out and harm others.
Asia Bibi herself has been forced into hiding due to threats on her life, her family, and her lawyer. Her family has also been forced to relocate as vigilantes threaten their safety. Living under protection of the Pakistani government is a stop gap measure for the time being, but the outsized power and control wielded by the hardliners clearly shows the Pakistani government is not in control of the country.
Asia Bibi’s case has become a symbol of the struggle of Christians in Pakistan in the face of Islamic extremism. Her lawyer has already fled to Europe and is calling on European and North Americans governments to grant her asylum. Her case presents Western governments the opportunity to renew their commitment to international human rights in contrast to the growing animosity towards migration and the simmering threats to western liberal democratic values.
Just as the United Kingdom offered protection and the opportunity for Malala Yousafzai to study in the UK, Prime Minister May’s government should offer Asia Bibi and her family asylum. In the midst of the Brexit debate dominating public discussion, the British government could demonstrate to the world that Britain is still a human rights leader in the world.
It would undoubtedly have the support of its allies and would be a welcomed act of leadership in a world where talk is cheap. Taking this humanitarian action will do more than save the lives of Asia Bibi and her family. It will signal to the world that minority Christian populations who have faced increasing persecution in recent years are not forgotten, providing a much-needed boost to their morale.
Majed El Shafie is the President and Founder of One Free World International | OFWI.org.