Mussarat Bibi, a Christian, and her Muslim colleague Muhammad Sarmad spent 23 days in prison on blasphemy charges. The fact that they were released on bail on May 12 is largely thanks to the efforts of CSI partner Anjum Paul.
“The 23 days in prison were terrible,” Bibi told CSI’s project manager for Pakistan. “I had a chain attached to my ankle and was kept in solitary confinement. Since I was a blasphemy case, I was treated extremely badly by the prison staff.”
The young widow and mother worked at the girls’ school in Arifwala, Punjab province, alongside Sarmad. She was responsible for cleaning while her young colleague kept the garden tidy. On April 19 she and Sarmad (18) were clearing out a storeroom at the school. Faced with a mountain of trash, they decided to set fire to the wastepaper. Not being able to read, they were unaware that the pile of papers included pages from the Koran.
An informant reported the pair to the police, who arrested them the same day and took them into custody.
When CSI partner Anjum Paul learned of the arrests, he immediately traveled to Arifwala. He was able to explain to influential local Muslims that the pair had not intentionally set fire to pages of the Koran, thereby averting a possible riot.
With assurances of financial support from CSI, Paul hired lawyers to provide legal advice to the two accused. His efforts paid off: on May 12 Bibi and Sarmad were released on bail, to their great relief.
“I could hardly believe it. Hallelujah, God is great,” Bibi said in a WhatsApp chat.
After her release, the widow spent two days at home in her village. But the tense atmosphere was hard to endure. “Many neighbors no longer speak to me and my family. The people we used to buy milk from won’t sell it to us anymore,” she said.
For her own safety Bibi is temporarily living with her sister in another village. She does not dare to go home. “Who knows what the Muslim villagers are up to? They would prefer to see me dead,” she says. She knows that in their eyes, she is still a blasphemer.
But she is very grateful for all the help and prayers received, and says, “If it weren’t for you, I would still be behind bars today.”