Rob Crilly, Telegraph (London), December 26, 2011
The case of Asia Bibi has been taken up by Pakistan’s small band of liberal reformers since it was reported by The Daily Telegraph in November last year.
But it has also exposed the power wielded by extremist clerics and the persecution faced by a tiny Christian minority.
In her first interview from behind bars, she described the miserable conditions in prison as she waits for the chance to appeal against her conviction.
“I am allowed to go out for only 30 minutes every day, and allowed to meet my family for one hour every Tuesday,” she told Life for All, a Christian organisation.
“I am given raw material to cook for myself, since the administration fears I might be poisoned, as other Christians accused of blasphemy were poisoned or killed in the jail.” She added that a prison guard had recently been suspended for trying to strangle her.
Human rights campaigners believe Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are being abused to settle scores or persecute religious minorities.
Mrs Bibi — who uses a common Urdu honorific in place of her surname of Noreen — was arrested after a row with women as they worked in the fields of rural Punjab.
In court, she said she had been asked to fetch water.
Some of the other women — all Muslims — refused to drink the water as it had been brought by a Christian and was therefore “unclean”, according to Mrs Bibi’s evidence.
In the row that followed she was accused of defaming the Prophet Mohammed, which she denies.
That was enough for a death sentence, although Pakistan’s president has imposed a moratorium on hangings since taking power in 2008.
This year, two of her high-profile supporters have been assassinated, including Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, who was shot dead by one of his own bodyguards. The assassin has since been feted by religious leaders and many ordinary Pakistanis.
Mrs Bibi, who has five children, said she prayed for her freedom but knew it could come with a high price.
“I am hopeful that I will be released, although there is a bounty of about $8,000 offered by the Islamic clerics to anyone who will kill me. I have left everything on God, I will accept His will.” Snipers have been deployed on church roofs in Lahore during Christmas to protect against attacks in a reminder of the threats faced by Christians.