Among the string of resignations triggered by the draft Brexit agreement with the European Union (EU), one stood out. In a double whammy for an embattled Prime Minister, Rehman Chishti the MP for Gillingham and Rainham resigned as both Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party as well as the PM’s Trade Envoy to Pakistan. Aside from citing Theresa May’s shambolic handling of Brexit negotiations, Chishti said the British government’s failure to give Asia Bibi asylum had been a motivating factor in his decision.
My letter of resignation sent to PM @theresa_may stepping down as Vice Chairman @Conservatives & PM Trade Envoy to Pakistan. 1. Cannot support Draft EU Withdrawal Agreement. 2. Very disappointed by lack of leadership shown by UK Gov to do morally right thing in Asia Bibi Case. pic.twitter.com/hcaxba1hJr
— Rehman Chishti (@Rehman_Chishti) November 15, 2018
Bibi’s case is a cause célèbre. She is a Christian who had been languishing on death row for nine years in Pakistan for blasphemy charges. To Christians worldwide, Bibi is a symbol of fortitude, faith, and unflinching commitment. After all, a conversion to Islam would have exonerated her, but she refused to recant her faith. She was imprisoned after fetching drinking water for fellow berry pickers on a Punjab farm in Pakistan in 2009. Her Muslim co-workers accused her of contaminating the water, because she was Christian. Following a verbal dispute, a complaint was lodged with a local Imam, alleging that Bibi had blasphemed against the Prophet—a capital offense under sections 295B/295C of the Pakistan Penal Code, introduced under the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her of the charges and said the accusations levelled against her were “concoction incarnate.”
Regardless of the Supreme Court decision, Muslim extremists believe Bibi must still be executed. They staged mass protests in major cities like Islamabad and Karachi threatening to kill the judges who acquitted her. A cursory look online reveals a palpable sense of anger among a section of Pakistan’s public with a petition entitled: “#Hang_Asia_Msih No Compromise on dignity of MUHAMMAD SAWW; We Support Khadim Hussain Rizvi.” Others have dedicated a song against Bibi, and uploaded it to YouTube, the lyrics of which roughly translate from Punjabi to “Don’t give electricity, don’t give water, just hang Asia.” This poisonous indoctrination is seemingly infiltrating more impressionable minds too—another video on YouTube rather depressingly shows children with a doll revelling in a mock execution of Bibi. There’s a fear that Pakistan’s Christian communities will now be targeted by Islamists in retribution for Bibi’s acquittal, and have requested the Pakistani authorities “beef up” security with military assistance to protect churches and properties.
In order to placate Islamists, who care little for secular law, Imran Khan’s government decided to prevent Bibi’s exit from Pakistan, until a petition from the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaaik can be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Cognisant of the ongoing danger to him and his family, Asia Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih made a desperate video plea requesting Theresa May and Donald Trump “support and help to remove [us] from Pakistan in [a] safe place.” Having already survived attempts on his life, Saif Mulook, Bibi’s lawyer, managed to flee to Holland. However, despite this plea, Britain’s diplomats decided against granting Bibi asylum.
Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, told the Huffington Post that, “I’ve been lead to believe that the UK government had concerns that her moving to the UK would cause security concerns and unrest among certain sections of the community and would also be a security threat to British embassies abroad which might be targeted by Islamist terrorists.” The Foreign Office later admitted that fear of attacks on consulate staff influenced the decision not to grant asylum. So, hordes of angry men calling for murder and mayhem appear to have succeeded in making, not one, but two governments capitulate to their indignant demands. The battle of barbarism versus civilisation, isn’t going well for the civilised.
In his letter of resignation Chishti wrote, “What I found shocking, is that the British government is failing to put into practice the core values that our country stands for; religious freedom, justice, morally doing the right thing, and that when we see injustice where an individual’s life is in clear danger and they have been persecuted for their faith, we do all that we can to help them.” Chishti is principled and right—Bibi’s case is a watershed moment—Britain has tragically lost her moral compass by implementing a policy of appeasement.
In fact, it’s hard to think of a more deserving recipient of asylum than Bibi, especially considering a recent Times report confirming scores of ISIS brides will be returning to our shores from Syria to enjoy all the trimmings of citizenship, which they readily rejected when joining the madness of an infidel slaying, sex-slavery promoting, and sharia enforcing caliphate. Would their return to Britain not cause “unrest among certain sections of the community”? Why is it okay to bring them back, but not give Bibi refuge? Perhaps Britain’s ruling class are only concerned about the reaction of communities who share the abhorrent views of Islamists in Pakistan? Most members of British society would prefer not to live next door to a former ISIS bride, but clearly the government cares little for the concerns of ordinary folk, including most British Muslims, when it comes to their return. It’s sobering to realise that a nation which has only just commemorated the centenary of the Great War, and its historical sacrifice against the forces of tyranny and evil, is no longer a country which readily offers sanctuary to those escaping religious persecution overseas. While Britain drags its feet, at least Canada has stepped up to help, with Prime Minister Trudeau confirming that “we are discussions with the Pakistani government.”
Of course, we should equally not underestimate the threat of violence that is especially linked to blasphemy cases, and the potential repercussions here in Britain. In Pakistan, two prominent politicians who dared support Bibi during her incarceration were murdered. Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead in Islamabad in 2011 and, in the same year, the former Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by a man charged with his security. The assassin Mumtaz Qadri, who was executed in 2016, has been hailed by some as Shaheed or martyr. We cannot deny that the ripples of such religious intolerance now extend across the globe—Qadri is reported to be an inspiration behind the murder of a Glaswegian shopkeeper Asad Shah, an Ahmadi who claimed to be a prophet on YouTube videos. His killer Tanveer Ahmed travelled from Bradford to Scotland, believing Shah’s blasphemous claims deserved punishment. This incident—along with the legacy of the 1989 Rushdie affair, the assassination of Theo Van Gogh, and the Charlie Hebdo murders, all essentially enforcements of a de facto blasphemy law through the barrel of a gun—are a constant reminder to the West that we are not immune to doctrinally inspired violent extremism on our streets. It is our new reality.
However, we must not allow fear to dictate policy, otherwise we are emboldening those who hate our way of life and our very existence. Bibi’s human rights must surely come first and, as Chishti asserts, Britain has a moral responsibility stand up for “core values” of religious freedom and justice. Moreover, as Douglas Murray points out in the Spectator, Bibi’s treatment makes a mockery of the British asylum system. It’s absurd that those who have defended the Iranian regime’s calls for Rushdie’s death are comfortably residing in Britain, while Bibi and her family have not been given immediate refuge.
Chowdhry has received threats for lobbying for Bibi’s safe passage to the West. He has been accused by hard-line Muslims of making up accounts about the British government’s decision not to grant Bibi asylum, despite having an email from an All Party Parliamentary Group secretary confirming the position. “This is a historic capitulation by our Home Office and Foreign Office which sends the wrong message to extremists,” Chowdhry said. “It seems our nation has been hijacked by the extremists and I am sure many Muslims living here will be just as disappointed as people of other faiths with this diabolical position.” He went on, “Jihadi brides and ex-ISIS soldiers are permitted re-entry into Britain despite treasonous behaviour and given rehabilitation, but Asia Bibi an innocent Christian is not?”
Other prominent British Christians share his concerns. Last month, Lord Alton, a veteran Catholic parliamentarian, travelled to Islamabad to meet Chief Justice Saqib Nasir, one of three judges who subsequently acquitted Bibi. He told me, “Asia Bibi is in mortal danger. Pakistan’s highest court has exonerated her and said that she has been wrongly imprisoned for nine years, under the sentence of death. But now her life hangs by a thread as lynch mobs demand her execution and that of the Judges who courageously vindicated her. This is no idle threat.”
“They murdered the Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti and the Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer, who had insisted on her innocence,” he added. “Britain needs to do two things. First, offer Asia Bibi sanctuary here; and second, until they uphold the rule of law and protect the country’s minorities, we should redirect the £380,000 we give every day to Pakistan—£2.8 billion over the past two decades—to more worthy recipients. Our failure to speak or act has been shameful.”
Hardeep Singh is a freelance journalist, Press Officer for the Network of Sikh Organisations, and Assistant Editor of the Sikh Messenger. He has written for the Telegraph, the Telegraph Magazine, the Spectator, the Guardian, the Independent, and Index on Censorship. You can follow him on Twitter @Singhtwo2