Asia Bibi’s former neighbors believe she deserves to be executed for allegedly insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad even though her confession was coerced.
“She confessed her crime in front of them, how can they forgive her?” asked 50-year-old Mohammad Bota in an interview with The Telegraph on Thursday.
Ittan Wali in rural Punjab, Pakistan, is where Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was first accused nearly 10 years ago by fellow Muslim laborers of having insulted the Islamic prophet, a charge she has always denied.
The accusation of blasphemy, one of the most serious crimes in the Islamic-majority country, led to Bibi's imprisonment on death row for eight years before she was finally acquitted by the Pakistani Supreme Court in October and granted freedom, though she is still being detained and unable to leave the country.
The controversial decision to free Bibi sparked widespread unrest and protests by Islamic hardliners in the country who declared their opposition to international pressure influencing the judges.
While persecution watchdog groups and human rights organizations have condemned Pakistan for its blasphemy laws, the villagers in Ittan Wali told the Telegraph that Bibi confessed to insulting their faith at the time and her death sentence should stand.
“I would die in the name of my religion and if someone has committed blasphemy, then they are not forgiven,” said 62-year-old farmer Shawkat Ali. “If the Supreme Court has some faith in religion and if they are Muslims, they should execute her.”
The villagers insist that after arguing with her co-workers, Bibi was sent to a local cleric to explain her words, which is where she allegedly confessed to insulting the Islamic prophet.
Qari Muhammad Salam, the cleric in question, argued that the Supreme Court's ruling was “very disappointing," and said Bibi "deserves the death sentence according to the law."
“If you start forgiving people on this issue, then it will become routine that people will commit blasphemy and just ask for forgiveness,” he said.
“We wish that if she had not uttered such remarks, and she had been living like before it would have been peaceful. But if someone says this, then there's no compromise on the dignity of the prophet [Muhammad]. Being Muslim, we believe that these are testing times and we should be ready for them.”
Bibi's family continues to live in danger in Pakistan where they spent Christmas waiting for an asylum offer from another country.
In October, Eisham Ashiq, one of Bibi's daughters, thanked God and Christians worldwide for praying for her mother and her family.
"Thank you everybody for praying for my mother. I'd also like to thank the brave judges and the Pakistani justice system that recognize my mother's innocence,” Ashiq said in a video supplied by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
"Thanks God, she (Bibi) is free and I hope our entire family is finally happy and free. Thanks to all of you for praying for my mother and persecuted Christians," she added.
Earlier this month, Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Southern Baptist pastor, issued a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump asking him to grant Bibi and her family asylum.
“The United States is without question the safest place of refuge for Asia Bibi and her family. We have a 230-plus year commitment to religious freedom and tolerance,” read an email by My Faith Votes, the organization seeking to encourage people to vote based on their convictions.
“That the United States isn’t being mentioned as her ultimate destination is a betrayal of those principles and an abdication of our responsibilities,” it warned.