The Pakistani Supreme Court has ordered the immediate release of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who has spent over 8 years on death row.
According to the official ruling, the prosecution 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 spokesperson said. "This decision gives us hope that Pakistan will take additional steps to increase freedom of religion and human rights in the country."
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.
Pray for Christians
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 hardcore 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 die in case the verdict of the Supreme Court came out in favour of Asia Bibi. Mumtaz Qadri, the killer who killed Governor Salman Taseer in daylight in the capital in 2011 belonged to this school of thought and group. Governor Taseer was killed for supporting Asia Bibi and opposing the misuse of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws.
"This is a highly tense and threatening 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 the Asia Bibi verdict. We also call upon 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.”
’Be imitators of Christ'
At the same time, church leaders ask their fellow Christians to behave in a manner worthy of Christ. "We call on Christians across the country and around the world to pray and proclaim. To demand our right to justice but to do so in a manner befitting Christians committed to be imitators of Christ. Do not destroy property, do not violate people, do not fall into the trap of violent and aggressive behaviour. In response to this verdict please hold back from making any comments that could be used against you."
The church leaders continue by saying, "These groups are on high alert and will be watching for any way to increase the pressure against Asia, Christians and the church. Let us strive to demonstrate restraint; no use of aggression or physical violence can make up for our loss as a nation and a community. We are a match as a praying people - let us trust God and ensure that we demonstrate Him and His Good News at this time. Let us be compassionate to those who mourn and suffer at this time and let us be prepared with our resources to serve this nation at a time when a blood bath could easily occur. Be willing to become a public care servant, to demonstrate God’s desire for justice, mercy and humility. If you have medical skills or social work skills, be willing to use them. Be watchful, vigilant and calm. God be with us all - to Him be all the Glory."
Responses from Christians
"God is good," responded a local Christian after learning about the verdict. "Pray for Pakistan. The situation is unfolding. I’m at my work and I see the rangers come in to take over security. Please pray for God’s mercy and wisdom and for God to do an amazing work in this land."
A little later, certain offices and schools were closed. "Our staff members are concerned about their children, especially the ones who attend a school with a Muslim majority. Pray that while they travel home they are not recognised as Christians and won’t draw any attention."
A mother waiting for her child to come home, shared with us: "Joy, anger, fear, disbelief, fear again, rejoicing, trusting, fear, questions, surrendering... God is in control: surely we will overcome."
- Praise God for this wonderful outcome, and pray for Asia Bibi's safe passage out of Pakistan as she walks into freedom
- For God's protection on all Christians in Pakistan who are now even more vulnerable to attacks from extremist groups
- That God would soften the hearts of those seeking to harm Christians as a result of this verdict, that they would come to know the love of Christ.