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Asia's sacrifice will be Pakistan's gain - but what a cost!

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A nomination for the Sakharov Prize for a woman who simply chose to stand up for her faith in the increasingly Islamist nation of Pakistan has ignited hope amongst beleaguered Christians living there.

Asia Bibi Pakistan's first woman to be given a death sentence under the nations draconian blasphemy laws is the first nominee of six named on the European Parliaments lists which can be accessed  (here).

Peter Van Dalen, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) in the European Parliament, who proposed the candidacy of Asia Bibi, explained that

"Asia Bibi’s case is of symbolic importance for others who have endured simply for expressing freedom of religion ".

On their website the European Parliament, wrote:

Asia Bibi (Aasiya Noreen), a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death in 2010 under the country´s blasphemy law. Bibi is on a death row for almost seven years and her appeal to the supreme court has been postponed to an undetermined date. She was nominated by ECR.

“Her behaviour and dignity in prison all these years is the best proof of her being able to present the dignity of a defender of human rights in the face of the worse fate,” said Polish ECR member Anna Fotyga. “We look forward to a final sentence from the supreme court eventually acquitting her."

British Pakistani Christian Association does not share the optimism of Mrs Anna Fotyga, as we believe it is highly unlikely that the Pakistani courts or Government will exonerate Asia Bibi, despite established circumstances pointing to her innocence.  Asia Bibi never uttered a blasphemy her words were an innocuous question.  Moreover, the Imam who laid the accusation against her was neither at the incident location or at her home the following day when a mob appeared seeking her death by lynching. Asia Bibi's full blasphemy allegation account can be read (here).

"Asia Bibi's plight has gained international attention and her steadfast and stoic refusal to give up her faith despite the looming death sentence over her, is a testament to us all. It would be so easy for her to just give in and adopt Islam to save her own life, but nevertheless she has continued to embrace her Christian faith knowing it will lead to her eternal salvation.

"Her brave stance has raised the levels of concern about Pakistan, as exhibited by a growing number of western parliamentarians. However, despite the belief in Asia's innocence few of the countries calling for her freedom have listed Pakistan as a country of concern.

In fact barring Canada and Holland both of whom sought advice from the BPCA when improving their assessment tools related to asylum for Pakistani Christians - no other country has recognized the persecution of Christians in Pakistan. Western nations have been blinkered by the fanciful notion of a military alliance with Pakistan in the war against terror, intrinsic trade agreements and a desire to create stability in a nation with nuclear power - fearful of instability leading to trigger happy extremists setting off Armageddon with neighbours India also happy to oblige.

However in reality Pakistan is worse than Myanmar with respect to minority rights according to Minority Rights Group International. Its 2017 report says that Pakistan is the 9th most dangerous country for minorities on our planet, whilst Myanmar is 10th. Pakistan ranks worse than Myanmar on critical indicators like ‘Voice and Accountability’ , ‘Political Stability’ and ‘factionalized elites’.  According to stewards.edu, “Factionalized elites can be defined as the splintering of a nation into political groups that promote rhetoric and actions that are harmful to the country”. 

In tandem, Open Doors a highly respected NGO who focus more directly on global Christian persecution place Pakistan 4th on their index that highlights the worst nations for Christians to be living (click here). On this list Pakistan is only one point behind Afghanistan in 3rd place and feature about Syria and Iraq from where refugees have almost automatic rights to asylum in nearly all western nations.

It is evident that Pakistan is in the top five worst nations for Christian persecution and is in the top 10 for global minority persecution in two very respected indexes, yet their plight is ignored by the mainstream media and most importantly the Governments in the west who fail to accept their evident high risk profile. 

The pass rate for Pakistani Christian asylum seekers in any western nation with the exception of Canada is way below 50%, thousands have been stranded in Thailand were they are re-persecuted by Thai authorities.  BBC Chairman Wilson Chowdhry travelled with Chris Rogers to highlight the trauma faced by UNHCR registered asylum seekers were being criminalized by Thai authorities intent on removing unwanted Pakistanis from their lands, the resulting one hour documentary can be viewed by clicking (here)

Lord Alton has often taken the British government to task about their failure to assist Pakistani minorities.  On the 13th September he raised a question in the House of Lords:

Question:
To ask Her Majesty's Government how much overseas aid they have given to Pakistan in each of the past five years; and of that, how much has specifically been committed to the promotion of (1) the protection of minorities, and (2) freedom of religion or belief. (HL1574)
Tabled on: 13 September 2017

Answer:

Lord Bates:
The DFID Annual Report includes the following figures for aid spend in Pakistan for the last five years;
2012-13 £203.1 Million
2013-14 £253 M
2014-15 £249 M
2015-16 £336.2 M
2016-17 £422.1M
£39.5 million has been committed to the Voice and Accountability programme (AAWAZ) which aims to ensure that democratic processes are more open, inclusive and accountable to citizens in Pakistan. It focuses on three areas:
1- Women's and minority rights, their political participation and decision making;
2- Tolerance and prevention of violence (inter-faith, sectarian and gender-based)
3- Increasing the accountability and responsiveness of the state to citizens' demands for improved service delivery (particularly on health and education).
Date and time of answer: 21 Sep 2017 at 13:02. #

Huge amounts of funding exactly £1,483.4m have been sent to Pakistan over the last five years,  yet only about 2% has been spent on attempting to resolve the mInority discrimination and persecution in the country. Even those funds have been wasted on academic research rather then practical solutions.  One major concern is the faliure to implement a fairer national curriculum in Pakistan, after the original was assessed by the 'United States Commission for International Religious Freedom' in 2013,  and demonstrated that standard texts books uniformly demonized and  caricatured minorities - even goes as far a labelling Christians as spies for the west.

Another area of concern  is illustrated via the majority of state offices in Pakistan not meeting with the requirement to reserve a quota of 5% of government employment roles to religious minorities.Eights years have passed since the federal government of Pakistan approved the quota in federal government services, however, the quota remains largely ignored, despite the efforts of martyr Shahbaz Bhatti.  

Mr Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA said:

“There are court cases against public offices but many departments continue to violate this provision undermining the ratification of a law that contributed to the death of Former Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, the loudest most active proponent for change."

"The law is rarely applied because of prejudice and religious discrimination in a country where tolerance for minorities has reached its lowest ebb.”

Governments in the west ignore the calls for change in Pakistan because they come from the largely silent Christian minority, who are easy to ignore due an extremely small global diaspora. Pak-Christians matter little as the powere of their proxy is limited and political figures pamper to the block vote they can obtain from the larger Muslim diaspora within their nations. 

When Malala Yousafzai was given her Nobel Peace Prize many Pak-Christians believed hope was on the horizon. Ffinally a Pakistani woman with a spirit for equality was speaking out against the intolerance and justice in her homeland.  Believing her egalitarian spirit and her favour in the west meant she would be our most effective tool to broach minority persecution in Pakistan, many Minority NGO's contacted Malala for help in highlighting our concerns.  Her failure to mention once the ongoing persecution of the Christian minority in the nation of her birth is difficult to comprehend.  

On 5th September, the New York times, wrote:

"Malala Yousafzai stepped into the political fray over the weekend and criticized one of her fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureates for her ongoing silence on a crisis affecting the Muslim Rohingya people of Myanmar. Yousafzai, leading a growing chorus of criticism, called on Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi."

Sadly the paper failed to recognize young Malala's ongoing dismissal of the persecution of Christians and other minorities in her own country, some of whom are the most persecuted in the world. A contradiction that makes her allegations against Auang San Suu Kyi seem disingenuous and opportunist especially when most indexes place Pakistan far above Mynamar for both discrimination and persecution.

Malala's Nobel Peace prize will continue to make her Pakistan's strongest advocate against gender discrimination in Pakistanbut womens rights go further then just equal educational opportunity, after all it is a Muslim NGO that estimated 700 Christian girls are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage annually, a fact that has been neglected in her campaign.

Malala's cumulative failure means she is not the right candidate to challenge for minority rights in Pakistan - her exhibited apathy has caused great chagrin amongst minority voices and NGO's.  The internet is littered with criticisms against her choice to ignore minority plight but those voices matter little. 

So as always the entire Pakistani Christian community pins hopes once again on Asia Bibi the emblem of our freedom and justice campaign.  Much Like Rosa Parks in America her simple defiance towards the ongoing opression of minorities in Pakistan, has garnered increasing international support for better minority rights in Pakistan. 

What began for Rosa Parks as a simply deisre to sit down after a long day at work,  resulted in everyday freedoms being returned to Afro-Americans; we can only hope that Asia Bibi's drink of water on a hot day fosters similar consequences for the religious minorities in Pakistan. Asia Bibi, more than partaking in a simple dignity has shown the best of humanity through years of fortitude.  

Mr Chowdhry, said:

"Asia Bibi's nomination reminds us that heroes come in all shapes and sizes and that even just the simplest thing such as standing up for your rights and not being cowed by oppressors, can have a lasting impact on others.

"Asia Bibi has not spoken a profound lecture at a UN Meeting, she has not raised funds to support victims of other atrocities, she has not even challenged the existing laws in Pakistan that target minorities nor has she been a particularly public figure. However in simply refusing to give up her faith despite the death sentence imposed upon her and the millions of Muslims calling for her death, she has shown how even the frailest of us can make a difference.

"Asia Bibi has endured isolation, insults, the ignominy of having to cook her own food after several failed attempts to poison her and yet has stayed resolute in her faith. At any time she could gain freedom by simply converting to Islam but she refuses to do so, choosing an excellent life in heaven over the pain of this world.

"Her incarceration has alerted the world to the unjust and immoral governance in Pakistan that has led to the 70 year old nation becoming one of the most intolerant in the world. She represents every minority as she suffers for her beliefs and may never restore her freedom on this earth again - but her legacy will be one that people across the world will talk about forever.

"If bravery and determination are the deciding factors for this award then no-one could deserve it more. Its not speeches that changes society it's the sacrifice of brave individuals like Asia Bibi, Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa and Gandhi."

Mr Chowdhry explained that the Blasphemy laws in their islamicized form since the 1980's breach all human rights conventions for freedom and equality. He said:

"No divine being needs man-made laws for protection, the retention of laws such as these despite regular international pressure highlight the insouciance of Pakistan's Government towards the suffering of the minorities living in the country.

"There is no quranic scripture that mandates blasphemy laws - this is simply a tool for discrimination and persecution that zealots use at their whim.

"No plans exist to remove or alter the laws and innocent victims like Asia Bibi spend long terns in prison under false allegations.

"The delay of a Supreme Court hearing for sister Asia is only a further indication of the pariah status of Christians and the ineffective rule of law in the country.

"If Asia Bibi is hanged as a criminal she will become the most famous Christian martyr for decades and the reverberation will be felt across the globe. It would provide some small solace if EU Representatives make the right choice and award this deserving woman for her sacrifice."

Keri-lynne Gibbs, volunteer for the BPCA, said:

"Asia Bibi has suffered not just for her personally held beliefs but for demonstrating them with considerable kindness.

"She offered water to her workmates on a hot day and was rewarded with scorn and contempt. Rather than a caustic retort to an insult, she answered with an honest inquiry that offered her oppressors and opportunity to explain their views.

"She was given heartache that no woman should have to bear, being told she deserved it; yet her grace and dignity could not be ripped from her.

"I find it difficult to think of an individual alive that has shown a more excellence spirit against the hate and violence she has endured. What she deserved is be with her husband and girls in a safe place, and though this honour would be a consolation for those who have done so little for so long, it would also be a comfort for others who have suffered for their faith."

A decision on all the nominations will be made in October and Pakistani Christians and those who care about Asia Bibi will be hanging on the edge of their seats with anticipation.

asia bibi
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