Pakistan’s chief justice says he will ‘soon’ decide the fate of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother-of-five who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010.
Chief Justice Saqib Nisar told Asia’s lawyer, Saif ul Malook, that he would hear Asia’s appeal. “Be ready, Saif ul Malook. I am going to fix your case soon and I myself will preside over the bench,” the Catholic news service UCAN reported Nisar as saying.
Asia herself has learned of the chief justice’s intentions, according to the Italian news organisation La Stampa. “She was thrilled and full of hope; she reacted with great faith, giving praise to God,” said Joseph Nadeem, a family friend, after a visit to Asia in the Multan women’s prison. Nadeem reported Asia to be in good health.
As part of his decision to hear Asia’s appeal, Justice Nisar ordered police protection for Malook to be restored. Two prominent Pakistani politicians were assassinated in 2010 after they spoke publicly in Asia’s defence.
Asia Bibi and Pakistan's blasphemy laws
Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws are well known for being used to settle personal scores, and they are frequently abused to target minorities, including Christians. Asia Bibi's case is one of the most infamous; she was the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan.
Asia Bibi was going to the village well to get water in 2009, when some Muslim women tried to chase her away from the well, claiming that she would make the water ‘unclean’ if she used it. Asia responded by saying that Jesus had rescued her and then asked, “What has your prophet done for you?” For this simple question, she was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, and has been in prison ever since.
The verdict against her was suspended in 2015, and she was scheduled to bring her appeal to Pakistan’s Supreme Court at the end of 2016. However, this was postponed.
Asia’s case isn’t the only one. The most recent available data shows that in 2010, there were 162 Christians imprisoned in Pakistan for blasphemy. Often, those who accuse Christians of blasphemy take the punishment for the ‘crime’ into their own hands, leading to beatings and killings.
Knowing that they could be accused of blasphemy at any time causes great fear among Christians in Pakistan. Hannah*, an Open Doors partner there, says, “Christians find it is important to start becoming silent, to go back into the shadow and hiding for fear of the blasphemy law - for fear of being accused of saying something that you didn’t intend to say, or that you didn’t say at all.
“It’s not just freedom of speech, it’s also freedom of thought that’s very much at risk. Because when you’re so fearful that you cannot tell your children the fullness of what you believe, because you are afraid that what they might say may be misinterpreted as blasphemy – then you are silencing and debilitating an entire community of people.”
Stand with your church family in Pakistan
Pakistan is number five on the 2018 World Watch List, Open Doors’ ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution. Christians are a tiny minority: the official figure is just 3.9 million in a country of 197 million, and they face daily discrimination and frequent violent attacks.
There are three ways you can support your persecuted church family in Pakistan today:
- For freedom for Asia Bibi and others who are imprisoned for blasphemy
- For comfort for Asia and her family
- For protection for Asia, her family, her legal team, and those involved with her case - two prominent Pakistani politicians were assassinated in 2010 after they spoke publicly in Asia’s defence
- For wisdom and courage for Pakistan’s leaders to reform the blasphemy laws.
*Name changed for security reasons