The first woman to be sentenced to die under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law said she was never asked or allowed to give a statement in her defense. Asia Noreen, 45 and a mother of five, spoke to Compass Direct News at Sheikhupura District Jail, following the Nov. 8 verdict. "How can an innocent person be accused, have a case in court . . . and then be given the death sentence, without even once taking into consideration what he or she has to say?"
Asia (alternatively spelled Aaysa) Noreen was arrested on June 19, 2009, and accused of blaspheming Muhammad and defaming Islam. She says the charges began over a dispute in her village about water running from her home, and that over the years villagers have harassed her about being a Christian.
Controversial blasphemy laws could reap more protection if a UN resolution is passed. Proposed by 56 Islamic nations that make up the OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference), the "defamation of religions" resolution is due to come before the UN General Assembly in December. Among supporters of the resolution are U.S. allies Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
The resolution, introduced yearly since 2005 under the guise of protecting religious speech, would actually make it a crime to "defame" or "vilify" other religions-offering a blanket of protection over Islamic blasphemy and apostasy laws.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the latest rendition of the defamation resolution on Nov. 16 in Washington: "Some people propose that to protect religious freedom, we must ban speech that is critical or offensive," she said. "We do not agree. . . . Attempts to stifle them or drive them underground, even when it is in the name of and with the intention of protecting society, have the opposite effect."
The outcome of the UN vote will be nonbinding, and largely symbolic, but will embolden countries like Pakistan to keep blasphemy laws on the books. Lindsay Vessey, advocacy director for Open Doors USA, told me the Obama administration "has been consistently strong" in its opposition to the ban and is "lobbying UN members hard" to vote against it.