By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST Ministries and the ASSIST News Service
PAKISTAN (ANS – June 30, 2015) – Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman facing death for drinking water out of the same vessel used by her Muslim co-workers and speaking out for Jesus, is in such poor health her supporters fear she won’t make it to her date with the executioner.
This courageous mother-of-five was sentenced in 2010 to be hanged for apostasy. She has always denied the accusations, but Pakistani authorities have ignored an international outcry and calls for her release.
The grim verdict was handed down after her co-workers charged she had insulted Prophet Mohammed.
Her nightmare began rather innocently on June 19, 2009, when this uneducated Christian mother, was picking berries with a group of Muslim women in the area of her home village, and they asked her to go to a nearby well to bring them some water. She happily did this and, on the way back, she was so thirsty, so she took a drink of the water, and when they discovered this, they accused her of being an “infidel” and an intense discussion ensued between them.
Apparently, it quickly spiraled out of control, and the Muslim women became even more angered when, during a debate about their respective faiths, she responded by telling them that Jesus is alive, adding, “Our Christ sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins…. Our Christ is alive.”
That so incensed them that they began viciously beating her and this eventually led to a blasphemy accusation. In November 2010, Bibi was convicted under the blasphemy penal code, and sentenced to death by hanging. An appeal has been filed with the Supreme Court, but there’s no word on how soon the case will be heard.
FoxNews.com is reporting that Bibi, now 50, is suffering from numerous health problems, including intestinal bleeding, according to Global Dispatch, which cited Bibi’s family in reporting the woman is “so weak she could hardly walk.”
“She is an exemplar of a gross miscarriage of injustice rooted in Pakistan’s extremely unfair blasphemy laws and of how this law can victimize someone who should not be inside the criminal justice system whatsoever,” said Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division.
FoxNews.com added, “Supporters of Bibi are calling on the U.S. to use the approximately $900 million in annual foreign aid it provides Pakistan as leverage to obtain justice for Bibi and others suffering under the Muslim nation’s Draconian blasphemy laws. The Center for Research and Security Studies, which identified 247 blasphemy cases prosecuted in Pakistan since 1987 and found many were used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal scores.”
Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), based in the UK, said, “Six years have passed and the travesty of justice continues. For some time now, we have been told that there has been a moratorium on the death penalty because of pressure from Western donors, but even before this vanished at the end of last year, it has become clear that her treatment was in effect a slow death sentence by neglect and worse, all for allegedly committing a crime that should not exist—blasphemy.”
“Asia Bibi is by no means the only Christian on death row for blasphemy,” Chowdhry added. “There are a number of others, and there are also other Christians who are in there for crimes they did not commit, and are in effect there because they are Christians. One man who had been imprisoned for over two decades from the age of 15 and who was well known to be innocent of the crime he was convicted of was executed two weeks ago.”
Pakistan-born Chowdhry said he hoped the British and US Governments would do all they could to force Mrs. Bibi’s release.
“I call on the UK government to remonstrate with the Pakistani government in the strongest possible terms over this deadly game of bait and switch, and to free Asia Bibi and let her and her family escape to safety,” he said.
Nazir Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, told FoxNews.com it is difficult for the international media to pick up news on Bibi’s plight because it generates so little coverage within the country.
“Pakistani media do not often write about her case and are too afraid because they are under pressure from the government to stay silent,” Bhatti said.
FoxNews.com added that Pope Francis has called for clemency for Bibi, and last year, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul called for an end to U.S. aid to Pakistan, noting the persecution of young women and Christians in the nation, and citing Bibi in particular.
Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom pressed the Obama administration to designate Pakistan a “country of particular concern.”
Two leading supporters of Asia Bibi were assasinated
Those who have spoken up for Bibi from within Pakistan have done so at their own peril and two of them paid for their comments about her with their own lives. They were Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister of minority affairs, who were both assassinated after defending Bibi and speaking out against the blasphemy laws.
“The assassinations show how dangerous it is for politicians to challenge the blasphemy law. Militants will go to extreme measures for anyone who speaks for religious freedom or human rights,” said Kine.
“We see what happens when someone tries to challenge the blasphemy laws,” said Chowdhry. “It got two key politicians killed…In a country with such animosity against Christians, I don’t believe a Supreme Court judge will be brave enough to exonerate her.”
According to a recent Mission News Network article, there have been some recent internal attempts to overhaul the blasphemy laws due to international pressure. A March 2014 poll from the Pakistani English-language newspaper, The Nation, showed 68 percent of Pakistanis believe the blasphemy law should be repealed.
“It is not something that can happen overnight,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch. “The government needs to educate their people on what are universal human rights, what is respecting religious minorities and so on. Right now, I don’t see that happening.”
Chowdhry, however, believes that reform of blasphemy laws are unlikely in a country he says has been “hijacked” by extremists.
The British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) has now launched a petition for Asia Bibi to be released, and you can sign it by going to: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/justice4asia.
Note: FoxNews.com’s Mary Kekatos contributed to this report.
Photo captions: Asia Bibi on death row. 2) Three of Asia’s children hold a picture of her. 3) Wilson Chowdhry spreaking at a rally in London. 4) Shahbaz Bhatti with two of Asia Bibi’s children before his murder. 5) Dan Wooding with his award from the BPCA.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. The British Pakistani Christian Association has given Dan a special award for his reporting on the persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
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