Prison guards chained Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi by her wrists and neck in a squalid cell while other prisoners taunted her, according to her newly published book.
“You already know my story through the media,” she said. “But you are far from understanding my daily life in prison or my new life.”
The woman whose dramatic release last year captured international attention detailed her experience for the first time in Enfin Libre! (Finally Free!), co-authored by French journalist Ann-Isabelle Tollet and released last week. The English translation is due out in September.
Bibi, a Catholic mother of five, spent eight years in Pakistan on death row for blasphemy against Islam following a 2009 argument when two Muslim women she worked with refused to drink water from the same container as her. A Pakistani court sentenced her to death by hanging in 2010 for insulting Islam’s Muhammad.
Despite her new freedom, Bibi emphasized that Pakistan’s repressive laws still keep many Christians under the same harsh conditions she suffered. She described how a long chain that dragged on the ground connected her bound wrists to her neck. The prison guards would occasionally tighten the iron collar around her neck with a huge nut.
“I became a prisoner of fanaticism,” she said in the book. “From my small windowless cell, I often wondered why Pakistan was targeting me.”
The guards weren’t the only ones who contributed to her torture. She said fellow prisoners mocked her as well: “I am startled by the cry of a woman. ‘To death!’ The other women join in. ‘Hanged!’ Hanged!’”
In November 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned Bibi’s sentence. After the court upheld the decision in January despite a petition to overturn the acquittal, Islamist protesters brought Islamabad to a standstill, burning rickshaws and throwing their shoes at posters of officials.
Pakistani Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, who led the panel of judges that dismissed the petition, said in court that Bibi’s accusers committed perjury, noting fabricated evidence and contradictory statements from Islamic clerics. “The image of Islam we are showing the world gives me much grief and sorrow,” Khosa said.
Christians make up less than 1 percent of the population in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Open Doors USA’s most recent World Watch List ranked it as the fifth most difficult country for Christians to live in.
“Even with my freedom, the climate does not seem to have changed, and Christians can expect all kinds of reprisals,” Bibi said. “They live with this sword of Damocles over their head.”
Last week, the nation’s anti-terrorism court acquitted 42 Christians for participating in riots that killed two Muslim men after the bombing of two churches in the predominantly Christian Lahore neighborhood back in 2015.
Bibi now lives at an undisclosed location in Canada, where she has reunited with her immediate family.
Bibi struggles to accept she might never return to Pakistan.
“My heart broke when I had to leave without saying goodbye to my father or other members of the family,” she said. “Pakistan is my country. I love my country but I am in exile forever.”