The story goes like this. Asia Bibi is a Catholic woman living in a small village near Lahore, Pakistan. She works as a farmhand, is married and the mother of five children. Earlier this year, a dispute erupted with other farmhands when she refused to convert from Christianity to Islam. Some stories say that she made a remark like this one: “Jesus Christ died for my sins; what did Mohammed ever do for you?”
For some of the villagers, that constituted “blasphemy” against the Prophet Mohammed, so she was beaten, arrested and sentenced to death. President Zardari of Pakistan has been pressured by the U.S. government and human rights organizations to grant her a pardon, which – to date – he has not done. Extremist Muslims have threatened to murder her if the death sentence is not carried out. Even if she is released, her only option is exile.
In late November, Card Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, traveled to Pakistan and met with Pakistani officials on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, urging her release.
At the center of this controversy are the blasphemy laws in Pakistan, which criminalize any statements negative toward Islam or the Prophet Mohammed. Although both Catholicism and Protestantism had a version of blasphemy laws in the days of the Reformation, today they are truly outrageous for anyone who believes in religious freedom and/or freedom of speech.