Pakistani Christians pray for her freedom and their safety!
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
Pakistani Christians have expressed great joy and fear after receiving news that Asia Bibi, Pakistan’s most famous blasphemy law victim, will finally have her long awaited Supreme Court appeal hearing during the second week of October.
The Chief Justice of Pakistan, Anwar Zaheer Jamali, yesterday (Monday, August 22, 2016), ordered the Supreme Court to fix a date in October, the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) were advised by Asia’s solicitor (lawyer).
Asia Bibi’s nightmare back in June of 2009, when she was harvesting falsa berries with a group of mainly Muslim women farmhands in a field in Sheikhupura in Punjab Province. She was asked at one point to fetch water from a nearby well; to which she complied, but stopped to take a drink with an old metal cup she had found lying next to the well.
A neighbor of Asia, who had allegedly been involved in a running feud with her family about some property damage, saw her and angrily told her that it was forbidden for a Christian to drink water from the same utensil from which Muslims drank, and some of the other workers considered her to be “unclean” because she was a Christian.
Some arguments ensued and Asia recounts that when they made derogatory statements about her religion, she responded by telling them, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”
This incensed the women, and later, some of the workers complained to a local Islamic cleric claiming that she had insulted Muhammad and soon an angry mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. One report even alleged that she was gang-raped for her alleged crime of blasphemy, was been beaten all the way home, and then her children were later sexually molested.
The police initiated an investigation about her remarks, resulting in her arrest under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. She subsequently was imprisoned for over a year upon the demands of the local Iman, before being formally charged under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. Asia Bibi has now been incarcerated since June 2009.
Ms. Bibi denied that she had committed blasphemy and said that she had been accused by her neighbor to “settle an old score”. In November 2010, Muhammed Naveed Iqbal, a judge at the court of Sheikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging. Additionally, a fine of the equivalent of $1,100 was imposed. With the verdict, she became the first woman condemned to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.
Asia Bibi described the day of her sentencing as follows: “I cried alone, putting my head in my hands. I can no longer bear the sight of people full of hatred, applauding the killing of a poor farm worker. I no longer see them, but I still hear them, the crowd who gave the judge a standing ovation, saying: ‘Kill her, kill her! Allahu Akbar! The court house is invaded by a euphoric horde who break down the doors, chanting: ‘Vengeance for the holy prophet. Allah is great!’ I was then thrown like an old rubbish sack into the van… I had lost all humanity in their eyes.”
“Asia Bibi, has always upheld that she will be set free by God’s grace even when it has seemed like there was no chance of freedom,” said a spokesperson for the BPCA. “After a failed appeal at the Lahore High Court on October 16, 2014, many thought freedom was beyond Asia Bibi.
“However, in a pre-trial hearing at Pakistan’s Supreme Court on July 22, 2015, the court suspended her death sentence permitting an appeal. In her appeal hearing Asia intends to ask the court to reconsider deficiencies in the case which include poor investigation and manipulated evidence by the local police.”
The appeal was originally meant to have been held on March 26, 2016, but after the judiciary and Government of Pakistan decided to push through with the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri under anti-terrorism laws they were forced to postpone Asia Bibi’s appeal hearing.
Mumtaz Qadri had admitted to assassinating Salmaan Taseer, the then Governor of Punjab for his stance calling for abrogation of the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan and freedom for Asia Bibi.
In the wake of Mr Qadri’s death a wave of demonstrations, including 100,000 Muslims encamped during a sit in protest outside Government buildings in Islamabad, where they demanded termination of proposed reforms of the blasphemy laws of Pakistan and death for Asia Bibi.
The government caved in on the law reforms which had passed through Parliament and were to be ratified in the Senate of Pakistan. Many Christians at this point thought Asia Bibi’s chance of freedom had run out and that the government had failed her and other minorities – especially when they postponed her case due to the scale of social schism.
“However,” continued the BPCA spokesperson, “news of the revised date for the appeal hearing has now induced mixed feelings. Many Pakistani Christians believe the date will be postponed again when the Muslim protests for Asia Bibi’s death resume, they still recall the five postponements before Asia Bibi had her Lahore High Court Appeal rejected.
“Moreover, despite their joy and delight that Asia Bibi will have her day in court and a chance for justice, they fear that a community backlash will result in attacks on the innocent Christian communities across the country. Despite their fears every Pakistani Christian stands with Asia Bibi and is praying for her release.”
Whilst in prison Asia Bibi has been forced to cook her own food due to attempts to poison her, whist bullying from other inmates has also meant she is forced to stay in isolation. Last year BPCA reported on her failing health.
This Supreme Court hearing will be the final opportunity for Asia Bibi to gain freedom through the country’s law courts. Failing this she will have to rely on a presidential pardon under article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which states:
45. President’s power to grant pardon, etc.-The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.
Wilson Chowdhry, the Pakistan-born Chairman of the BPCA, said in a message sent to ANS: “Asia Bibi has suffered the injustice of five years’ imprisonment for a made up crime. A cultural faux pas and innocuous comment made while being attacked, led to her being raped, her children being sexually molested, and her arrest under the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistan for good measure yet no-one else was arrested for the violence to her?
“As a devout Christian she continues to believe that God will free her from her ignominious incarceration. She prays daily and has placed her life and her family before God.”
Mr. Chowdhry berated previous governments for failing to free Asia, adding, “I have spoken to Pakistani government officials and the judiciary. All of them express great shock at the ongoing abuse of her liberty. Yet Asia’s tragedy continues. I have come to the conclusion that all I have been receiving is diplomatic lip service, devoid of passion for justice.
“Asia’s story is one of oppression and discrimination and despite international pressure, statutory authorities and the Government of Pakistan have failed her, just as they have failed all minorities in Pakistan.”
He concluded by saying, “Freedom for Asia Bibi would be a watershed moment in the campaign for justice, equality and freedom for minorities in Pakistan. Previous governments have failed miserably, but I believe the incumbent Government is genuinely attempting to restore the balance. I hope that effective protection is provided to Asia and her family, the judiciary and all persons that could make this latest appeal a success. Any half-hearted approach will undermine Asia’s trial and create a further blight on Pakistan’s reputation.”
Still, BPCA told ANS that it expects a “large mob of Muslims baying for the blood of Asia Bibi outside the Supreme court during the hearing, a scene very common to trials of this nature in Pakistan.”
The spokesperson said, “We are calling on the Pakistani Government to ensure that known ring-leaders are rounded up and prosecuted under the countries incitement to hatred laws.
Main Pakistani Muslims demand execution of Asia Bibi“If these extremist elements are allowed to foment violence against innocent Christians, then it will be the government and security forces that will be to blame. Any community tension must be controlled and attacks curbed by security forces ensuring that innocent Christian communities are protected, during a time when their pariah status is set to reach epic levels.”
Many Christians in Pakistani are deeply concerned that if she is finally freed, she and her family would be the immediate target for assassins in an extra-judicial killing as they left the court. Already, the Mayor of Paris, France, has offered sanctuary to them, but in view of recent terrorist attacks there, they may not be safe. So please prayer for this situation.
The BPCA has told ANS that it has continued its appeal to support the Asia Bibi and her family. If you would like to donate towards the upcoming appeal, please go to: https://britishpakistanichristians.worldsecuresystems.com/donate.
To sign the BPCA Petition on behalf of Asia Bibi, go to: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/justice4asia.