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Asia Bibi

Honourable Senators,

I rise today to speak to you about Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman of Christian faith who has spent the last 8 years of her life on death row, awaiting her fate under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, which date back to the British Raj’s rule over the Indian subcontinent in the 1860s.

I am very happy to share that Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismissed all charges against her and has granted her release from prison. The judges who strongly condemned the lower court’s decision over the lack of evidence have risked their lives in doing so. We, in the international community can help strengthen their resolve by standing in support of this important decision.

In 2010, after visiting the flood-ravaged regions of Pakistan, I voiced my concerns as well as the concerns of the international community with the then foreign minister about Asia Bibi’s case and the country’s blasphemy laws as a whole. At a later date, the Honourable Jason Kenny and I brought up her case with the then Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Furthermore in 2011, the Senate unanimously passed a motion calling on the Pakistani government to immediately drop all charges against her.

Recently with the election of Imran Khan, positive social change has gained momentum. In a statement supporting the ruling and calling out hard-lined extremists who advocated for the murder of the judges, Prime Minister Khan said “This is not the service of Islam, this is enmity with the country. Only anti-state elements talk like this (saying) kill the judges.”

While minorities were disproportionately targeted by blasphemy laws, it is important to note still, that Muslims make up 75% of the 4000 cases tried for blasphemy in Pakistan.

Honourable Senators, I am grateful to everyone who has pressed for her release. Moreover I am reminded of all those who lost their lives in this fight, including, the late Salman Taseer, a senior politician, killed by his own bodyguard for his support of Asia Bibi and his condemnation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

While justice may be served slow at times, and freedom might seem distant, Asia Bibi’s story reminds us that we must fight for these fundamental principles regardless of how long it takes. I am hopeful that she will reunite with her children and begin her new life, free of fear and having been rightfully acquitted.

Thank you.