17 May 2019, The Tablet

New woman sentenced for blasphemy occupies Bibi cell

'Discrimination against Christians is becoming intolerable and manifests itself in all walks of life.'

New woman sentenced for blasphemy occupies Bibi cell

Pakistani supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) a hard line religious political party and other workers of religious parties chant slogans during a protest against the supreme court decision to overturn the conviction of Christian woman Asia Bibi in Lahore.
Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire

The cell which was occupied by Asia Bibi before her acquittal on charges of blasphemy by the Supreme Court of Pakistan is now being used by another Christian woman sentenced to death for the same crime.

Shafqat Masih and her husband Shagufta Kousar were both arrested and charged with sending text messages which insulted Islam. Their appeal has been taken up by Saiful Malook, the same lawyer who represented Asia Bibi.

This recent case highlights the fact that Asia Bibi is an exception in a country where Christians are easily subject to discrimination, including false charges of blasphemy which can lead to death sentences.

“We are very happy that our sister Asia Bibi has been released, but this is only one exceptional case. The whole world put pressure on the Pakistani Government and after 10 years she was able to leave the country. But there is not only one case, there are several. A week before, another case was raised against a Christian for blasphemy”, says Joel Sahotra, parliamentary secretary of the regional Government of Punjab.

The Christian politician says that discrimination is becoming intolerable and manifests itself in all walks of life, including in universities. “Things have been getting worse day by day. Just two months ago a Christian student was killed by other students and a staff member for taking a sip of water from the same tap as all other students drank from. This shows the situation we are facing in Pakistan.”

Joel Sahotra spoke to the Tablet during a visit to Europe where he has been trying to obtain scholarships for Christian students to study outside of Pakistan, thereby avoiding the growing hostility and benefiting the community in the long run with their skills.

“Obviously there is the risk that some will stay abroad, maybe even most of them, but some of them will definitely return, because they know the situation and they have concerns for the community. If they get an education with the help of the church and of a university, they will feel that they have to go back and help the community, which is oppressed, depressed and isolated in Pakistan.”

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