The case of Asia Bibi, also known as Asia Noreen, a Christian woman in the Pakistan village of Ittan Wali, in the province of Punjam, who is accused of uttering blasphemous remarks against the Prophet Muhammad during a spat with a group of Muslim women while plucking falsta, a kind of berry, has attracted the attention of the international community.
According to witness accounts, the Muslim women refused to drink from a cup used by Noreen, believing it was unclean as Asia is a Christian. At the height of the verbal tussle, Asia was accused of uttering blasphemous remarks against Mohammed.
That simple argument in 2009 sent Bibi into prison when Muslim sisters Asma and Mafia reported the alleged blasphemous remarks to the village chief who then filed a police report and eventually, a formal court charge was slapped against Bibi.
In November 2010, a lower court in Nankana Sahib city was found guilty and sentenced to death. The decision quickly sent Asia Bibi to solitary confinement and she has been languishing in jail since as she awaits her death sentence or if her appeal will be granted by the court.
The international community has condemned the charges against Asia Bibi, with the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and even the Vatican, championing her case. Hundreds have protested on the streets in Pakistan demanding her release. Critics of Pakistan's blasphemy laws which carry an automatic death sentence or life imprisonment, saying the laws are often used as a vendetta to settle personal disputes, especially targeting religious minorities.
But a latest report from Al-Jazeera claimed transcripts of Asia Bibi's trial show too many inconsistencies from the witnesses provided by the prosecutions. It said the cleric who filed the case against Asia was not present when the alleged incident occurred, and described her legal counsel as incompetent.
Human rights lawyer Asad Jamal also said that the Lahore High Court committed an error when it upheld Asia Bibi's conviction. Jamal stated, "I think there was an element of social prejudice there because the woman is a low-caste, Christian woman. The judge should have considered the social discrimination over religion and caste."
Six years into her imprisonment, the international pressure the Asia Bibi's case has generated is forcing Pakistani lawmakers to rethink their blasphemous laws. But Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International said it is still too early to rejoice. Keep in mind, he said, that the last time a Pakistani lawmaker suggested to overhaul the country's blasphemous laws, that lawmaker was killed by her own bodyguard, according to MNNonline.org.
Punjab governor Salman Taseer advocated the release of Asia Bibi and even asked the President to annul her death sentence. The call triggered mass protests, with some imams accusing Taseer of defying Mohammed. Taseer was killed by her own bodyguard in 2011.
Allen said international pressure has now forced Pakistan to overhaul the blasphemous laws. "Pakistan wants to be a member of the world community. Lawmakers finally did draft this bill to revise the current blasphemy laws, to kind of get rid of some of the very easy abuses."
Meanwhile, Asia Bibi, who is now 50, is suffering from debilitating intestinal bleeding, with her health failing and is already coughing blood, her family said.
Bibi's family was permitted to visit with her in May, after not being allowed to see her for over a month. Following their visit, the faimly revealed that Bibi is "so weak that she can hardly walk." Asia's health problems are only getting worse due to her abhorrent conditions, and she's in desperate need of medical attention, a family source said.
"When vomiting there is also shown traces of blood. Asia has difficulty feeding properly, while constant pain in the chest," The unnamed family source as saying. "Therefore it is necessary that Asia Bibi be submitted as soon as possible [for] a full medical checkup, including blood work."