The case of Asia Bibi – the Pakistani Christian mother falsely accused by her Islamic female neighbours of blasphemy, but acquitted – is a litmus test on whether governments in the West still have the courage to defend one of a person’s most basic human rights, the right to freedom of religion.
Faced by fundamentalist mobs who want to lynch her, Bibi is currently in hiding, still somewhere in Pakistan. And yet, the Australian government has sat on its hands, telling her supporters that the proper bureaucratic process in applying for asylum has not been followed.
This has prompted Professor Augusto Zimmerman—a former law reform commissioner for Western Australia—to directly contact Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging him to not only grant Mrs Bibi asylum but to also demonstrate that he is not a religious hypocrite.
I also spoke with the Department of Home Affairs. Their official response was the benign but banal self-absolution of all responsibility, “The department does not comment on individual cases”.
I then contacted the British Pakistani Christian Association, who is representing Mrs Bibi, asking them to respond to the governmental claim that Mrs Bibi hadn’t formally applied for asylum. Their response was as follows:
The family have no solicitor in Pakistan, he fled to Holland.
We were asked to contact countries for them and sent out a request receiving the response shared with you.
Our email which was sent out at the same time as a video calling for help from America, Britain and Canada produced by Ashiq was also sent to Australia.
No Country has received a formal application yet; the family were seeking automatic offers as they were stuck in a very serious situation.
Since we emailed and launched the campaign several countries held debates in Parliament and offered automatic asylum, Canada, Italy and Holland have been very vocal about this.
Diplomats from many nations are interacting with the family but not Australia.
Britain was shamed into admitting that I was correct and that they were too frightened of attacks on their consulate, though we know the situation was much worse and included fears of internal rest (I have an email from a secretary from an APPG to prove it.
Australia is not even holding a debate but opted to send us their flat response, suggesting Asia Bibi would be on a waiting list despite being hated by 95% of her nation.
We are about to organise a series of vigils in Australia which I will share dates with you shortly as we attempt to get your nation on side too.
Australia is known internationally to be reluctant towards asylum.
The British Pakistani Christian Association went on to further clarify:
In our correspondence, it was made extremely clear that we had power of attorney.
Several other nations contacted us and began diplomacy with Pakistan after connecting with the family through us.
Now, just stop and think about that for a second. Canada, Italy and Holland all received exactly the same correspondence pleading for help. And in response, they are currently debating offering Bibi automatic asylum. In fact, both France and Spain have already said that she could go there. But the Department of Home Affairs in this country is “duck shovelling” the issue by saying that her people have not filled out the necessary paperwork?!
When Scott Morrison became Prime Minister, many people expected a new kind of leadership in line with his Christian convictions – particularly after he explained to Australians the grief he felt and the tears he shed over the plight of genuine refugees.
Here is an opportunity for him to demonstrate his own integrity and the truthfulness of his own admissions.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
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