8 October 2018
Asia Bibi’s long wait for justice continues, as Pakistan's Supreme Court has postponed its ruling on her final appeal, and has not said when it will announce its ruling.
Please continue to pray for comfort and protection for Asia, who has been on death row since 2010 and spent much of that time in solitary confinement for her own safety. Pray for her family and her legal team. And pray for courage for those who have the power to grant her freedom – but perhaps fear the consequences if they do.
ASIA BIBI AND PAKISTAN'S BLASPHEMY LAWS
Asia was the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan.
She 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. 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. 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.”
The risks of speaking out
It isn’t surprising that Pakistan’s leaders are reluctant to grant Asia Bibi her freedom, as those who have spoken out for her previously have faced dire consequences.
Salman Taseer was the governor of Punjab, and he spoke out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws, calling them 'the black law', and called for the pardon of Asia Bibi. Taseer's outspoken views on the blasphemy laws angered parts of the Islamic community, and he was shot by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri.
Some celebrated Qadri as a hero who fought for the honour of Islam. When he was executed in 2016, the BBC reported that 30,000 people gathered to pay their last respects to him, and there were riots in the streets.
Even today, a hardline Pakistani Islamist group warned of ‘terrible consequences’ if Asia Bibi was granted leniency. The Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which makes punishing blasphemy its main campaign rallying cry, warned the court against any ‘concession or softnes’ for Bibi. "If there is any attempt to hand her over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences," TLP said in a statement.