On these pages, I have written a series of blogs regarding the plight of Asia Bibi. My regular readers will recall that Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman who was sentenced to death under Pakistan’s notorious criminal code section 295(c), which prescribes the death penalty for “insulting” Mohammed and Islam. She is a 47-year-old Roman Catholic rural farm worker and a married mother of five. In June 2009, while working in the fields, she was sent to bring water for the other farm workers. Some of the Moslem workers refused to drink the water she brought as they considered water touched by Christians to be “unclean.” Her co-workers then complained to the authorities that she made derogatory comments about Mohammed. What was the derogatory comment she purportedly made against Mohammed? The Moslem women claimed Asia Bibi said: “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?” Asia Bibi is illiterate, and is considered an uneducated woman, but she asked a deeply profound question. One of the great differences between the Holy Bible and Islamic teaching is that the Holy Bible teaches in Ephesians 2: 8 and 9 that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and our salvation does not depend upon our good works or any personal merit. In contrast, the Qur’an teaches that salvation is by sincerity and good works (see, e.g., Qur’an 3:135; 7:8-9, 21:47, 66:8-9). Thus, Islam teaches that one cannot know and experience God’s assurance of eternal salvation unless one dies in jihad.
Six days after the water incident, a violent mob came to Asia Bibi’s home, damaged it, and assaulted and beat her and members of her family. In response, Pakistani police arrested her, and she spent more than one year in jail awaiting trial. Finally, in November 2010, The Honorable Judge Muhammed Naveed Iqbal sentenced her to death by hanging, and he fined her the equivalent of $1,100, a princely sum in rural Pakistan. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari refused to pardon her after large demonstrations were held against her. My readers may remember that several Pakistani government officials who publicly called for Asia Bibi’s release and the abolition of the Pakistan’s blasphemy law have been assassinated, including the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who was murdered by his bodyguard. Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet, was assassinated for speaking out on her behalf as well.
In my blog from last July regarding Asia Bibi, I wrote the following:
Asia Bibi’s case is now up for further appeal by the High Court of Lahore, Pakistan. In fact, for the fifth time over a number of years, the hearing for her appeal didn’t happen. No reasons are ever given for the delay, and no new hearing dates are set. The excuses given for the delays have been varied; there have been sick judges and sick lawyers who couldn’t make it at the appointed day and hour. As you can well imagine, the government fears the people if she is released, and the government further fears that financial donors from the international community will cut off or curtail foreign aid if she is executed. Pakistan, an erstwhile ally of the United States in what used to be the war against terrorism, has received tens of billions of our tax dollars in foreign and military aid over just the past decade, and continues to receive large sums. Thus, with the moral courage of Pontius Pilate, the High Court judges find every excuse not to give Asia Bibi her day in court. And justice delayed is justice denied.
However, in recent days, the High Court in Lahore rejected her appeal and upheld her death sentence. Over the past four years, Christian lawyers in Pakistan have been working on the appeal of her case, along with numerous others who sit on Pakistan’s “blasphemy death row.” Although Asia Bibi was represented in court by her legal team and had support from the Provincial Minister for Minorities Affairs, as well as support from human rights activists from other NGOs, the courtroom at her appeal was packed with lawyers from the Islamic Organization, Khatam-e Nabowat, and an estimated twenty mullahs who were there to support the complainant. The New York Times reported:
The Lahore courtroom was packed with clerics and members of extremist groups who supported the prosecution, and they erupted in celebration upon hearing the two-judge panel’s decision to dismiss Ms. Bibi’s appeal. “Let us celebrate by distributing sweets!” said one cleric who was reciting verses from the Quran throughout the almost two-and-a-half-hour court proceeding. “I am very happy,” said Qari Salaam, a co-worker of Ms. Bibi’s and the main complainant in the case. “The judges have given a verdict on merit, and Asia deserved it.”
Ms. Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, expressed disappointment after the verdict. As he left court, he poignantly said, “We were hoping for some relief, but alas.” Asia Bibi now has 30 days to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The New York Times, quoting unnamed analysts, noted that given the huge backlog of cases at the Supreme Court, it could take at least three years before her appeal will be heard.
Last Christmas, Asia Bibi wrote a letter to Pope Francis, in which she thanked him and all the churches praying for her. She credited the prayers of God’s people for her survival after years in prison. In her letter to Pope Francis, she expressed her desire to be in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to pray with Pope Francis for Christmas 2014. Lord Jesus, may it be so. Please continue to pray for Asia Bibi and her family, and her legal team, and let us work together so that she can worship or Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Rome later this year.