Around the globe, Christians are rejoicing over the miraculous release of Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi. With Asia’s release comes the very real fear and threat of persecution of Christians in Pakistan where Muslim extremists vehemently wage war against anyone or any group who turns from Islam. The church in Pakistan needs our prayers more than ever before.
ASIA BIBI IS A CHRISTIAN WOMAN IN PAKISTAN FREED FROM A DEATH SENTENCE
October 31, 2018 will forever be the day after one of the most well-known prisoners in the world was released. Aasiya Noreen (better known as Aasiya Bibi, which means sister Aasiya) was arrested in June 2009 after a dispute with some Muslim women. Eventually she was accussed of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging in 2010. Ever since she was held on death row. She has been waiting for eight years for an appeal hearing that was delayed repeatedly.
Most of the past eight years she has spent in solitary confiment. Most women in her prison wake up before 5:00 am for their morning prayers. The cells are unlocked at that time and a breakfast of tea and roti (Pakistani flat bread) is given to them.
Someone like Aasiya had to prepare her own meal with the little ingredients that were given to her. One reason she had to cook for herself was so that she wouldn’t be poisoned easily. After breakfast, most prisoners were allowed to wash. We don’t know if Aasiya had been granted that ‘privilege’.
During the mornings the women had to perform their daily tasks such as cleaning. Some say Aasiya had to perform the most demeaning tasks, but it’s also possible she would have had to stay in her cell. Either way, every day was the same day in prison.
PAKISTAN IS ON FIRE RIGHT NOW WITH ISLAMIC EXTREMISM
In the weeks leading up to the ruling, Islamic extremists group called for the deaths of Asia and the presiding Supreme court justices. Throughout the case, Muslim extremist groups have threatened and carried out violence. In March 2011, a government official who supported Asia’s case and publicly criticized the blasphemy laws was assassinated by a member of one such group. Now in light of the court’s ruling, fear of persecution among all Pakistani Christians is extremely high. The church is bracing themselves for attacks on their homes and churches. Certain offices and schools also have been closed.
Where is Aasiya? Now Aasiya is free, according to the Supreme Court’s order. But the authorities’ lips are sealed when it comes to her whereabouts. That makes sense. Her life may be threatened more than ever, especially if she is still in the country.
After the Pakistani Supreme Court has dropped the charges against Asia Bibi, protests have erupted in many cities around Pakistan, and the government has a hard time controlling the situation.
“What do the extremists want?” A local Christian said, “They want blood… We have to trust in God. He is sovereign and our King.”
ASIA BIBI’S LIFE IN DANGER AS DEAL IS STRUCK TO PREVENT HER LEAVING PAKISTAN
The Pakistani government has eventually announced an agreement with the extremists responsible for protests across the country.
The government has promised not to oppose the petition for a legal review of Asia’s acquittal and that her name shall be added to the Exit Control List, which contains the names of people not allowed to travel outside the country.
The government also pledged to take action against the possible deaths of protesters and that all people arrested because of the protests will be immediately released. Meanwhile, the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP, the party responsible for instigating the protests) said it would call its supporters to cease the demonstrations and apologise to those who experienced ‘inconvenience’ because of the protests.
The deal was announced on Friday evening and by Saturday morning, most protest sites had been cleared and mobile phone services had been restored.
MORE THAN EVER BEFORE, ASIA BIBI AND PAKISTANI BELIEVERS NEED OUR PRAYERS
This agreement is a huge blow. Asia’s life is in mortal danger. Not only her life, but also that of her husband and children, and her legal team. This is also an extremely volatile time for all Pakistani Christians, which number around 4 million in a country of 196 million. The ruling in this case greatly heightens the threat of widespread violent persecution.Local Christians are calling it a “highly tense and threatening situation.” A local Christian shared with us, “Please pray for God’s mercy and wisdom and for God to do an amazing work in this land.”
We pray that God will change the hearts of the Pakistani government and the judicial powers, and give them courage to stand up to militancy and to give Asia and Christians a fair chance at a future. We pray that Asia and her family will be save and have the right and freedom to practice their faith, and that those involved in her case will be offered protection.
We also plead with other governments to engage peacefully but without compromise with Pakistan and to keep the country accountable to fair human rights standards.
We also request Christians worldwide continue to pray for Asia, her loved ones, and all of our brothers and sisters in Pakistan. Asia has put her faith in God. We must do the same.
CHRISTIANS BEAR THE BRUNT OF PERSECUTION IN PAKISTAN
In the world’s sixth largest country and the fifth most dangerous country for Christians, believers who come from a Muslim background are targeted and seen as part of the downtrodden “untouchable” caste. They endure persecution from both the state and society. Radical Islamist groups see them as apostates; and their family, friends and neighbors see their conversion as shameful to the community. As a result, many Muslims refuse to drink and eat with them for fear of being defiled. And Christian women and girls live under a constant threat of abduction, rape and forced marriage. Tragically, Christian students who are forced to attend Muslim schools are often singled out and persecuted for their faith. Throughout the country, Christians are denied education, good-paying jobs and even public services like electricity and running water. The spread of Islamic extremism continues to grow with radical groups running thousands of madrasas (Islamic education centers) where youth are taught and encouraged to persecute religious minorities like Christians.