As the world awaits the final decision as to whether or not Christian mother Asia Bibi will be put to death for an alleged “blasphemy” offense, one mentally disabled man has been sentenced to life for the same crime.
According to International Christian Concern (ICC), on Sep. 28, Yaqoob Bashir was sentenced to life in prison by the Session and District Court of Mirpurkhas for allegedly committing the crime of blasphemy against state-religion of Islam. The unbelievable sentence was handed down to the 25-year-old over three years after the offense was alleged to have taken place.
In June 2015, Bashir was accused of burning a booklet that contained Quranic verses in the Pakistani city of Mirpurkhas. However, prior to the accusation, Bashir was reportedly receiving treatment at a mental health facility in Hyderabad. That fact did not, however, affect prosecutors from hauling him before the courts under the infamous Section 295-B and C of Pakistan’s Penal Code — the same law that has kept Asia Bibi behind bars for almost a decade.
According to the Penal Code itself, 295-B refers to the prohibiting of “Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur’an,” and 295-C is in reference to the “use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet.” Other non-Islamic-specific violations contained in the law include “trespassing on burial places” and “disturbing religious assembly.”
As part of Bashir’s protracted legal process, almost 100 hearings were held. Incarcerated, the mentally unwell man was attacked by fellow inmates on several occasions. According to ICC, in June 2018 the committed Christian was brutally beaten by fellow inmates for praying in their shared jail cell. He sustained multiple injuries as a result of the brutal attack, and was continually denied bail despite being in a dire physical and mental state.
To make matters worse, during Bashir’s trial and imprisonment, his family has been subject to dreadful harassment at the hands of various Islamic extremist groups who desired to see the harshest possible sentence imposed. “It’s unbearable and unjust,” Kasur Bibi, Bashir’s mother, told ICC. “My son is innocent. He did not insult or do blasphemy. He does not care much of these issues as his mind works differently than that of a normal person’s.”
Bashir’s legal defense team is set to file an appeal against his astonishing sentence at Hyderabad High Court this month.
“The blasphemy laws need reform,” said Imtiaz Amanat, Legal Aid Coordinator at Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. “There are a number of case studies where these laws have been misused against the most vulnerable segments of the society. Yet, these laws are mute about mentally disabled persons, children, and intention. Because of this, these laws have created an atmosphere of fear in Pakistan.”
“Keeping mentally disabled persons in mind, the government should introduce amendments to these laws and extend relief to innocent citizens,” Amanat added.
Though she admits to being illiterate and uneducated on legal matters, Bashir’s mother said she will do whatever it takes to get her son back.
“I just want justice for my son and to see him at home as soon as possible,” she said.
In for the blasphemy case of Asia Bibi, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has reportedly decided the fate of the 45-year-old Christian mother, though it is keeping the decision secret at this time. Bibi was arrested after supposedly entering into an argument with a group of women about a source of drinking water. The Islamist women accused Bibi of drinking from the same tap as them, to which Bibi allegedly responded, “Jesus Christ died for my sins. What did the prophet Muhammad do for you?” a remark which they believed offended their revered religious figure.
In response to the supreme court’s most recent statement, the radical Muslim political party “Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan” (TLP), announced that the justices in the case would meet a “horrible” end should they choose to acquit Bibi. The mother-of-five was sentenced to hanging back in 2010.
If Bibi’s final appeal is rejected, she will be left with only one last option – a mercy petition to the president.
However, as has been made clear by the radical Islamists, even if she attains freedom, the Christian woman will be at grave risk of being executed by vigilantes. Last week, in Pakistan’s second-largest city of Lahore, hundreds of protesters gathered together and chanted “Hang infidel Asia.” Sickeningly, the hashtag #HangAsiaDefend295C was trending among the religious extremists on Twitter.
Do continue to pray for Asia, Bashir, and all those who find themselves being persecuted for their faith around the world.