ASIA BIBI AND HUSBAND RELOCATE TO CANADA
By Alex Pollock
A Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row after being accused of blasphemy has left the country to join her family in Canada, her lawyer and officials said. It marks the conclusion of an extraordinary ordeal for Asia Bibi, who was first convicted in 2010 after neighbours accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument. (The Independent)
The case of Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi, a Christian farm worker from Northeast Pakistan, was the first woman to be convicted and sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. She was convicted in November 2010 after a 16-month trial for “defaming the name of the prophet Muhammad” after a dispute over water with three Muslim women who were picking berries with Bibi.
According to the Associated Press, Bibi was one of 1,472 people who have been charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws between 1987-2016. Of those, 205 were Christians. The Centre for Social Justice, based in Lahore, estimates that half of those accused of blasphemy are non-Muslims. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were introduced in the 1980s by General Zia-ul-Haq and make it illegal to insult Islam, to insult the prophet Muhammad, to damage a Quran, or to defame a mosque. Often times, just an accusation of blasphemy is enough to incite mobs, violence, and threats of death. In Bibi’s case, not only was she threatened, but two Pakistani officials who spoke out in support of her were assassinated.
In July 2015, three Supreme Court judges suspended Bibi’s death sentence and agreed to a full hearing at the Supreme Court in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. The Supreme Court officially acquitted Bibi of all charges on 31 October 2018, after citing discrepancies in witness testimony. However, demand from Islamic supporters to uphold Bibi’s sentence persuaded the government to hold her in Islamabad and barred her from leaving the country.
From October 2018 until recently, Bibi and her husband had been staying in an undisclosed location in Pakistan awaiting asylum in the West. Since the acquittal, the family has received multiple threats of violence and death from Muslim extremists who support the blasphemy laws. Although Bibi has been a free citizen since October, her safety has constantly been threatened, and she has not had freedom of movement in Pakistan. The couple’s two daughters had been granted asylum in Canada and reportedly left Pakistan before Bibi and her husband.
According to National Public Radio (NPR), Bibi and her husband have now been reunited with their two daughters who had been staying in Ottawa. Wilson Chaudhry, of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said the family would be living under new identities and with personal protection, at least for the time being.
Since Bibi’s relocation, Western leaders have voiced their support for the family. British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt was quoted by Reuters as saying, “It’s fantastic news that Asia Bibi appears to have left Pakistan safely,” while the US State Department released a statement saying “Asia Bibi is now free, and we wish her and her family all the best following their reunification.”
Others facing death under blasphemy laws
Since Bibi’s acquittal, her lawyer, Saif-ul Malook, has taken up the case of Shagufta Kausar, a 45-year-old Pakistani mother who has also been accused of blasphemy. According to Christianity Today, Kausar was arrested and charged with blasphemy after texts insulting Islam were reportedly sent from her cell phone. Kausar and her husband have both been sentenced to death after they were convicted for the incident which is said to have taken place in 2013. The couple has been waiting to hear their appeal at the Lahore High Court.
Malook took on Kausar’s case after returning to Pakistan following a stay in the Netherlands. He has faced threats of violence from fellow Muslims after his decision to start defending Christians and had left Pakistan in fear of his life after Bibi was released. The Netherlands has offered Malook citizenship if he wishes to leave Pakistan for security reasons, but he told Christianity Today that he had returned to Pakistan “to defend these defenseless people”.
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Christians are Pakistan’s second largest religious minority, at 1.6% of the population of 210 million, and Asia Bibi’s case placed a global spotlight on the increasing persecution that they are facing in Pakistan. According to Open Doors USA, radical Islam is growing in political power, Christians are largely regarded as second-class citizens, and converting from Islam to Christianity poses a great risk. Persecution ranges from violence and death to work-place discrimination, and the local Church is accustomed to the struggles that come with living in a Muslim majority nation.
John 15:20 promises that Christians will face persecution. However, there is still a need to pray for those caught in particularly tough and unjust situations, and Asia Bibi’s arrival in Canada is an encouragement for those who are praying for the many like her, not just in Pakistan but around the world. Let the global Church continue to lift up those suffering in Pakistan and all restricted nations.
- For continued safety for Asia Bibi and her family
- For a positive resolution for Shagufta Kausar and her husband
- For the Pakistani Church to remain steadfast in the face of increasing persecution