ASIA BIBI: THE FACE OF MANY PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS

Yesterday, 29th January, Pakistani’s Supreme Court rejected a petition submitted by Qari Muhammed Salaam on behalf of firebrand preacher  Khadim Hussain Rizvi to reverse the acquittal of Asia Bibi, Pakistani Catholic mother of five who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010 and acquitted in October last year.

“We are not hearing the case again, the lawyer was unable to point out a single error in the judgment,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa said yesterday.

Her acquittal in October prompted violent protests orchestrated by the Islamist movement Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), which were later subdued through a deal reached between the Pakistani government and the group — with the government agreeing not to oppose a review petition filed against the Supreme Court’s judgment. Radical Islamists have been trying to find her and kill her. For this reason, she has been under state protection.

With the Supreme Court’s final ruling, Bibi is now expected to leave Pakistan, seeking asylum in another country as supporters warn she remains at risk of violence from extremist groups.

“The rejection of the petition against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, by the Supreme Court of Pakistan today is a triumph of human rights over religious intolerance, a victory over the hatreds of fanatics – and above all a personal happiness and a great joy for Asia Bibi and her family. Millions of people have prayed for their fate and campaigned for her release, including “Aid to the Church in Need” says Philip Ozores, General Secretary of Aid to the Church in Need.

“After more than eight years of uncertainty, a long-cherished hope has become reality today. A hope that also inspires the 187 other Pakistani Christians who are accused of blasphemy like Asia Bibi, sit in prisons or wait for their execution. For their early release, “Aid to the Church in Need” will continue to pray and work with other organizations and project partners in Pakistan. It is to be hoped that the decision of the court will finally have a rethinking of the government and the blasphemy laws are relaxed or best kept completely, he disclosed.

Mr. Ozores prayed that  Asia Bibi will be able to leave the country as soon as possible in order to be united with her family in freedom and that the Government of Pakistan succeed in restraining the mob of religious fanatics on the streets. And all – media, politics and organizations – withhold speculation about Asia Bibi’s whereabouts as extensive speculation could jeopardize their departure literally in the final meters. The danger is not over yet, but confidence outweighs, he said.

In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Dominican Father James Channan who has been working to establish a dialogue between Christians and Muslims for years in Pakistan said the case of Asia Bibi is not an isolated one as there are 187 other cases of Christians facing charges of blasphemy.

One of these is the case of the married couple Shafqat Masih and Shagufta Bibi. I visited them on death row. They have been accused of sending blasphemous text messages, which the couple denies. Their prospects are very bleak. Even should they be acquitted, they and their children will no longer be able to live in Pakistan. Fanatic Muslims will try to kill them. The blasphemy law destroys the lives of those who have been accused, even if they avoid being executed.

Father Channanwho is the head of the Peace Centre in Lahore Pakistan, explained that the situation of the Christians in Pakistan is alarming. They live in fear and uncertainty.

This situation he said, has not changed since the 1970s, when legislation in Pakistan began to be based on Islamic Sharia law. Radical Muslims are misusing the controversial blasphemy law in particular to settle personal scores.

Anytime Christians are accused of supposed blasphemy, all Christians in the region are indicted with them. This often leads to acts of violence against Christians, he explained.

The support provided by Aid to the Church in Need plays a crucial role in ensuring that the church in Pakistan can continue to proclaim the faith and promote dialogue.

This assistance, said Fr. Channan has built many bridges between Christians and Muslims. A large number of Muslim clerics, including the Grand Imam of the second largest mosque in Pakistan, are a fixed part of the programme at the Peace Center in Lahore.