The Pakistani Supreme Court has today (October 31) ordered the immediate release of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who has spent over 8 years on death row.
According to the official ruling, prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The judges quoted extensively from the Quran and other Islamic scriptures, saying among other things that non-Muslims were to be dealt with kindly.
“We are relieved to hear that the Pakistani Supreme Court has dropped the charges against Asia Bibi – charges that were based simply on her Christian identity and false accusations against her,” an Open Doors spokesmen said. “This decision gives us hope that Pakistan will take additional steps to increase freedom of religion and human rights in the country.”
In the meantime, local Christians have asked Open Doors to call for prayer around the world. A few days ago, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the Chief Cleric of hard core Extremist Group Tehreek Labek Pakistan (also known as Khaatm-e-Nabooat), called upon his followers to come out on the roads and be ready to do and die if the verdict came out in favour of Asia Bibi.
“This is a highly tense and threatened situation for the religious minorities, especially for Pakistani Christians and there is fear of persecution of Christians and attack on their churches and other properties,” Open Doors partners shared.
“Therefore, we call upon the Government of Pakistan and the Supreme Court to take notice of the threat call made by Khadim Rizvi and his group prior to the announcement of Asia Bibi verdict. We also call upon them to ban Tehreek Labek Pakistan and all similar extremist groups who are involved in hate speech and use religion as a tool to promote violence in the society.
“We also call upon the Government and law enforcement agencies to beef up the security and ensure the deployment of military troops to safeguard the lives and property of religious minorities, especially the Christians and churches.”
“God is good,” said a local Christian after learning about the verdict. “Pray for Pakistan. The situation is unfolding. Please pray for God’s mercy and wisdom and for God to do an amazing work in this land.”
Asia Bibi's case has attracted worldwide attention and led to much criticism of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws. Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammad during an argument with a Muslim woman. The Muslim woman had refused water from Asia, a colleague, on the grounds that it was 'unclean' because it had been handled by a Christian.
Asia was found guilty, becoming the first woman to be sentenced to death under Article 295C of Pakistan's penal code, which imposes death sentences for offences of defamation against Mohammad.
Pakistan is number 5 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Radical Muslims monitor gatherings of converts. Historic churches have been subject to bomb attacks. All Christians suffer from institutionalised discrimination, with occupations that are seen as low, dirty and derogatory being officially reserved for Christians, most of whom are from the poorer classes. Radical Islamic groups, courted by political parties, the army and government, run thousands of schools capable of stirring up enmity towards religious minorities. Blasphemy laws target Christians in particular. Conversion from Islam brings great shame to family and community, and danger for the new believer.