Asia Bibi, the Christian mother who spent a decade on death row after being falsely accused of blasphemy, has urged Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan to campaign for the release of Christian girls kidnapped and forced into Islamic marriage.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bibi highlighted the plight of underage Christian girls who are abducted and forced to convert to Islam before being married against their will. Commenting in response to the kidnapping of Christian girls Huma Younus and Maira Shahbaz, Bibi said: “I know that these girls are being persecuted and I appeal to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, please help our young girls, because none of them should have to suffer like this.”
Maria Shahbaz, from Madina, Punjab, was abducted at gunpoint in April 2020 and is now in hiding having escaped her captor. Huma Younus was also 14 when she was taken from her home in Karachi last October. She remains with her captor.
Bibi added: “At the moment of the founding of Pakistan and its separation from India, our founder Ali Jinnah, in his opening proclamation, guaranteed freedom of religion and thought to all citizens.
“But today there are some groups who are using the existing laws, and so I appeal to the Prime Minister of Pakistan – especially for the victims of the blasphemy laws and the girls who have been forcibly converted – to safeguard and protect the minorities, who are also Pakistani citizens.”
Under Pakistan's penal code, blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad is punishable by death. Between 1967 to 2014, over 1,300 people were accused of the crime. Bibi, a mother of five, was one of them. Finally, after over a decade of wrangling with the country's legal system, her case was dismissed by Pakistan's Supreme Court. She later fled to Canada before claiming asylum in France.
"As a victim myself, I am speaking from my own experience," Bibi added to ACN. "I suffered terribly and lived through so many difficulties."
Now, she said, was the time for urgent reform so that religious minorities might enjoy the same protections under the law.
“Pakistan is not just about minorities or majorities," she explained. "Pakistan is for all Pakistani citizens, so therefore the religious minorities should also have the same rights of citizenship, and the law in Pakistan says that everyone should be able to live in freedom – and so this freedom must be guaranteed and respected.”