By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PAKISTAN (ANS-Dec 28, 2015) – For Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, this Christmas was shrouded in mercy.
A story by Paolo Affatato for La Stampa, an Italian newspaper published in Turin, reported that this was the seventh Christmas she spent behind bars, in the women’s prison in Multan. That’s a town in the province of Punjab, where Asia awaits the outcome of a re-examination of her blasphemy conviction.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court, the third and final stage in the trial, has accepted Asia’s petition to appeal against her death sentence. The wait is now on for a hearing date to be set so that he final verdict can be issued.
For this 50-year-old mother of five, Christmas in the Year of Mercy, is a celebration of forgiveness.
Despite her suffering and isolation and her awareness of the immense injustice she is experiencing, La Stampa said Asia is at peace.
La Stampa said, “She is a woman who, inundated by the grace of God, gives her blessing to her own story, a story which human reason can only see as wrong, twisted and unfortunate.”
Trusting in God’s Providence, Asia told members of her family who went to the prison to visit her on the morning of Christmas Eve, “Christmas is a celebration of God’s mercy. I forgive my persecutors, those who have made false accusations against me, and I await their forgiveness.”
These words, according to La Stampa, had a deep impact on Asia’s husband Ashiq Masih, her children and Joseph Nadeem, the family’s legal advisor and director of Lahore’s Renaissance Education Foundation.
The moment when they exchanged wishes was very moving.
Asia was happy, saying “Jesus has made this day a happy one for me and has listened to my prayers. I am moved and full of joy at being able to meet my family today and celebrate Christmas with you.”
Asia also recalled the moment that changed her life.
La Stampa reported she said, “Today also marks the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. May peace be with him on this day. I truly cannot imagine disrespecting him. But although I have been in prison for seven years, I do not hate those who have harmed me.”
She added, “I pray that the Prophet Mohammed will bestow wisdom on his followers so that peace can go on being built around the world. I pray that Jesus Christ will grant peace to the whole world.”
Asia’s husband, Ashiq, said that after the visit, his wife sent a request out to everyone following her story, to continue to pray for a positive outcome in the Supreme Court trial.
“May God the Almighty grant me freedom so that I can celebrate next Christmas with you, in peace and freedom,” she said.
Asia Bibi’s Christmas is an example of the way Christians are celebrating Christmas in Pakistan. They are “bearers of a message of harmony and hope,” said Khalil Tahir Sindhu.
He is a Catholic lawyer who has worked on the Asia Bibi case, as well as many other blasphemy cases against Christians. He is now minister for minorities and human rights in the provincial government of Punjab.
In order to avoid “new Asia Bibi” cases and eradicate the root cause of anti-Christian discrimination in Pakistan, La Stampa said Sindhu is using his political initiative to protect the rights of minorities.
As a result, the Punjab province has set up district committees for the promotion of religious harmony and has implemented a law that requires five percent of government jobs to be allocated to minorities.
Sindhu’s efforts were backed by Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain, who at a meeting with Christian bishops stressed the important role religious minorities play in terms of the country’s “progress, defense, security and social stability.”
“Pakistan,” Hussain added, “will guarantee the well being and protection of our Christian brothers using all means possible,” recalling certain provisions that have already been adopted by the Pakistani government.
La Stampa said Sajjad Masih Gill hopes that these words will translate into actions. Gill is another Christian who was sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged blasphemy and presented his appeal to Lahore’s high court in recent days.
Pakistan is witnessing a disturbing trend in abuse of the blasphemy law that has ruined the lives of people such as Asia Bibi, Sajjad Masih Gill and many others: 1,400 such cases were reported in 2014, more than in any other year.
In 2014, La Stampa said, according to information from Pakistan’s human rights commission, the Pakistani courts sentenced three people to death, six people to life in prison and three more people to two years in prison for blasphemy.
Nisar Shar, a lawyer and spokesman for the Karachi bar association, said “it has become dangerous for lawyers to defend clients accused of blasphemy.”
Saiful Malook, Asia Bibi’s Muslim lawyer, is aware of these risks but has decided nevertheless to follow the case through until the final Supreme Court hearing, upon which Asia Bibi’s fate hangs.
Photo captions: 1) Asia Bibi, behind bars. 2) Asia pictures here with her husband and two of her children. 3) Three of her daughters holding a picture of their mother. 4) Jeremy and Elma Reynalds.
About the writer: Jeremy Reynalds is Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, a freelance writer and also the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico’s largest emergency homeless shelter, www.joyjunction.org. He has a master’s degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is “From Destitute to Ph.D.” Additional details on “From Destitute to Ph.D.” are available at www.myhomelessjourney.com. Reynalds lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife, Elma. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at email@example.com.
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