Via ASSIST News Service

Some years ago, I visited a central jail in Sargodha, Punjab, Pakistan during a local community project to spend some time with prisoners serving sentences, often deserted and sometimes forgotten by their own families and friends.

For the first time in my life, I came to know the “life” behind the bars. While we were escorted through the small dingy cells reserved for solitary confinement with next to nothing sanitary system, damp and dark with only a window to give some glimpse of life outside, I began to think what it means to spend a single day in such conditions, let alone years.

Asia Bibi before her arrest. PICTURE: Via ASSIST News Service

"The recent stay execution on Asia’s case has been considered a hopeful step. For her it is light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel."

The lifeless existence of inmates with small and big crimes continue to haunt them day in and day out. The challenges they face behind the bars, are utterly unimaginable to the people in the outside world. My one-time glimpse into the prison cells in Pakistan, to this day still causing me to shudder me in the comfort of my home.

Asia Bibi, the Christian blasphemy accused on death row often makes headlines during the time of her court hearings. I wonder, what it means to be a woman, Christian, accused of blasphemy, on a death row and in a solitary confinement for more than five years. Her health has further deteriorated, she is reported to have internal bleeding and spewing blood. What is it like to “live” in conditions in which you start to hate your own existence? An unfathomable trauma!

The recent stay execution on Asia’s case has been considered a hopeful step. For her it is light at the end of a seemingly endless tunnel. The Express Tribunereported loopholes in the making up of the blasphemy case against Asia Bibi and a gap of five days after the initial incident happened which according to the counsel of Asia is enough evidence against the veracity of the case and how it must have been engineered by her opponents which subsequently, proves her innocence.

While there is enormous hatred spewed against Asia, there is also broad range support both in Pakistan and abroad from all faiths which is an encouraging factor. Sometimes the life of an individual is much more important than anything else. A message we all need to learn and remind ourselves from time to time.

Fareed Ahmad, national secretary of external affairs of Ahmadiyya Muslim community UK, supports Asia's case and told me: “It is deeply distressing that Asia Bibi has been on death row in Pakistan for nearly six years due to charges of blasphemy. The founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was a passionate advocate for freedom of religion and it is shocking to see how far the country has moved away from such noble principles.”

Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of Pakistani parliament and author of forthcoming book Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan's Religious Minorities told me that there is a direct link to the increased Islamisation and the mistreatment of minorities in Pakistan. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom, Pakistan represents the worst situations for religious minorities in the world.

Commenting on Asia Bibi case Ms Ispahani said: “With apex court staying the execution brings a ray of hope and life not only to Asia but all past, present and future victims of false cases of blasphemy. It is crucial to be kept alive so that a precedent of justice is established.”

The ideals of justice, equality and rule of law are the cornerstones of any progressive society in the world. The recent stay on Asia Bibi’s execution might be a forlorn hope to some, but glimmer of hope to others and for sure a new lease of life to Asia Bibi who is already living a borrowed life.

Kudos to the Supreme Court of Pakistan which laid the foundation of a justice often denied in the lower courts to the blasphemy accused cases, which often succumb to the myriad of societal pressures but now can turn a new page of life for all those in prison cells with a hope for the shred of a justice.

Finally, there is some light at the end of a long tunnel.

Shahid Khan is the vice-chairperson of Glasgow-based human rights organisation, Global Minorities Alliance.