- (Photo: Protesters demand release of Asia Bibi, in Lahore November 21, 2010/Mohsin Raza)
A Christian woman in Pakistan has claimed that she was handed a death sentence simply because she was "thirsty." The mother of five, who is currently in prison on death row, was sentenced to death by hanging in 2009 after being accused of blasphemy – a charge she adamantly denies. She has now released her memoir, "Blasphemy," from prison where she tells her shocking side of the story.
Asia Bibi's case has gained widespread international media attention since she was arrested four years ago on blasphemy charges while working as a fruit-picker in the northeastern area of Pakistan. Bibi co-wrote Blasphemy with French television journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet. The book details her struggles as a Christian in a predominately Muslim land, including her arrest and sentencing to death. Although the book was released in France in 2011, media outlets have recently released excerpts from the book to keep the memory of Bibi's hardship alive, and a new wave of media attention has been drawn to Bibi's case.
Bibi's imprisonment began shortly after July 2009; she was picking fruit in the northeastern area of Pakistan to make extra income for her husband and five children when her life changed forever. Temperatures in the fruit field reached above a sweltering 100 degrees, and Bibi, parched, chose to drink out of the communal well shared with other female-fruit pickers, all of whom were Muslim. The Muslim women objected to Bibi, a Christian, drinking out of the same metal cup as them, arguing that it was "haram," or the Islamic term for anything forbidden by God.
When the women confronted Bibi, she defended her actions, arguing that she was thirsty and the women should allow her to drink the water. As the argument escalated she said, "I think Jesus would see it differently from Muhammad."
Bibi was then called a "filthy Christian" and things turned more aggressive; she fled home fearing more harassment from her Muslim co-workers.
Five days later, however, Bibi was viciously attacked and beaten by an angry mob that dragged her to the local imam's home. There, the local Muslim leader ordered Bibi to either convert to Islam or face death. Bibi refused to convert and deny Jesus, and she was charged with blasphemy and brought before a Pakistani court. Shockingly she was found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, and she has remained in prison since that time. Bibi continues to assert that contrary to the claims of the Muslim women, she did not insult the prophet Muhammad in the fields in July 2009, and was simply thirsty.
"I'm the victim of a cruel, collective injustice," Bibi writes in her biography, according to excerpts recently published by the New York Post.
"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," she adds.
"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," Bibi said.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, the vast majority of Pakistanis, at 97 percent of the population, belong to the Muslim religion, while there are also about 3 million Christians and 3 million Hindus in the nation.
Bibi, 46, was initially imprisoned at the District Jail Seikhupura, near the city of Lahore, but she has since been moved to a more remote prison. She is reportedly constantly concerned that her food in prison will be poisoned by Muslim guards or clerics hoping to kill her for her alleged blasphemy against Muhammad.
Bibi managed to write her memoir, Blasphemy, by dictating the entire work to her husband from jail; her husband then released the work to Tollet, who had the memoir released in French in 2011. The book was then released in the U.K. a year later, and it is now available in the U.S. Half of the proceeds from the book will help support Bibi's release from prison and her family - the book is released in the United States on Sept. 1, 2013 and can be purchased here.