Even the news of her release from prison was greeted by a baying mob of thousands of men who waved banners demanding that she be hanged — a terrifying and visceral picture of the patriarchy in action.
Despite being declared innocent by the courts, it is Asia who is on the run like a criminal and needs to leave the country before the mobs track her down.
Even her lawyer, Saiful Malook, had to uproot his life and family and seek asylum in the Netherlands. Other less well-known members of her legal team like Muhammad Aman Ullah, who has stayed behind in Pakistan and is working on her asylum papers, is fearful for his life.
“He made them ministers, gave them cars, built them bungalows, got them involved in government. Before that the religious leaders were quite weak, now they are stakeholders in government and in corruption.”
It is also this mob rule that prevents the quick dispatch of blasphemy cases in the lower courts, even when the evidence provided is as flimsy as a flight of fantasy.
The political strategy of the extremists has been to pack out the courts at every blasphemy hearing so that judges are reduced to nervous wrecks and refuse to take on cases, pleading ill health.
If they do hear the cases, they simply do not acquit defendants. Lower-court judges are typically less educated and more sympathetic to the religious lobby.
Saiful Malook recounts the story of the judge who sentenced Asia Bibi to death, who has preserved the pen which he used to sign off her judgment as a source of pride.
The higher up you go in the Pakistani legal system, the more likely you are to get justice because judges further up the hierarchy are paid well and have security provided by the state.
Of course, even this security can turn out to be illusory as Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was to discover when he was killed by his own guard in 2011 for visiting Asia in prison and calling for her to be released.
The few lawyers who take on these life-threatening cases command huge fees. Many of the blasphemy victims, like Asia, are just too poor to go all the way up to the Supreme Court and languish for years in prison.
But Asia caught the public imagination and donations poured into her campaign from all over the world. Rights organizations like Amnesty International also stepped in to help fund some of the legal fees.
Although the leadership of subsequent governments after Zia has been drawn from the liberal elites whose personal lives have eschewed religion to a greater or lesser degree, all of them, except General Pervez Musharraf, have relied on religious parties for their power. It was a strategy of appeasement and vote garnering.
Benazir Bhutto was the great feminist hope when she succeeded Zia but failed to overturn his Hudood ordinances, which, for example, required women to produce four witnesses to prove rape to avoid charges of adultery. Nawaz Sharif condemned religious violence against minorities but did very little to reverse the sharification of Pakistan.
Musharraf cultivated an image of Enlightened moderation, introduced some women-friendly laws and pushed back against religious forces.
However, Afiya Zia, a Pakistani activist and academic, in her new book “Faith and Feminism in Pakistan” says his policies were “more symbolic than transformative” while the backlash of radical conservatism against women went unchecked.
Imran Khan, elected to power recently, and yet to shake off his image as playboy of the Western world, plays a similarly duplicitous game.
The religious right has so far not managed to win power at the ballot box, but its ability to rouse a rabble and paralyze the country has given it a disproportionate and vicious grip on what’s left of democracy in Pakistan. Trump, take note: if you court religious extremists, you are in danger of letting mobs weaken democracy.