Christians must not forget jailed Pakistani woman, says ministry

Christians should not forget about Asia Bibi – the first woman to be sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy in Pakistan – as the country’s high court decides on a date for her appeals hearing, said a ministry that advocates on behalf of persecuted Christians.

Bibi’s case should not be swept under the rug and forgotten but Christians “must pray and advocate” on behalf of the innocent woman, said Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, in a statement Monday.

“We continue to stand with Christians in Pakistan. We continue to help them face the incredible pressure – the almost unimaginable pressure – they are under every day, by spiritual means, by encouragement and through advocacy, speaking out on their behalf,” said Moeller.

As of Tuesday, the Lahore High Court still had not set a date for her appeals case. There was hope that President Asif Ali Zadari could pardon her before the hearing, but last week the court barred him from doing so. It ruled that it was illegal for the government to pardon her while the case was pending.

Bibi, a mother of five, has been in prison for one-and-a-half years. Last month, she was sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly speaking ill of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. She was accused of blasphemy by fellow field workers but she denies the charges.

She said the false accusation stems from a petty argument she had with her Muslim co-workers after they refused to drink water that she fetched for them. They complained that the water container was touched by a Christian. Upset by their comments, Bibi argued with them but afterwards thought nothing of the incident. However, a few days later dozens of Muslims dragged her away. She was accused of blasphemy and has since been imprisoned and sentenced to death.

Bibi’s family was one of only two Christian families in the village. Now they are the only one in the village because the other family moved away after Bibi was arrested, her husband told reporters last month.

Moeller stressed that the Pakistani government must repeal the blasphemy law to prevent similar cases that oppress Christians and other religious minorities in the country.

“The larger problem is that the blasphemy law exists in the first place," he said. "That a person like Asia – and many others through the years – can be put in prison for a year and a half without even telling her side of the story is a travesty of justice and basic human rights.

“Christians and the international community need to keep pressure on the Pakistani government to drop laws like this one and not cave in to the Muslim extremists."

Hardline Muslims have held protests in Pakistan warning the government against changing the blasphemy law or else face protests nationwide.

No one sentenced to death because of blasphemy has actually been executed in Pakistan. The cases have all been overturned upon appeal. But 46 people were killed extra-judicially in Pakistan between 1990 and 2010 following charges of blasphemy, according to AsiaNews.

The 46 people, including 28 Christians, were killed extra judicially or found dead in prison under suspicious circumstances. As a result, there is growing concerns over the safety of Bibi as she awaits her trial.