Pakistan Christian Mother-of-Five, Asia Bibi, spends another lonely Christmas on Death Row
PUNJAB PROVINCE, PAKISTAN (ANS December 25, 2016) -- Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother-of-five who was found guilty in 2010 of blasphemy for standing up for Jesus, and sentenced to death, has spent another lonely Christmas on Death Row.
She was sentenced to death after co-workers had accused her of insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad, a charge she has always denied.
So, while millions of Christians around the world have been enjoying Christmas Day fellowship, food and presents, Ms. Bibi was once again suffered in solitary confinement in an 8-by-10-foot cell without windows, and even had to cook her own Christmas meal because of fears that others may try to poison her food.
This courageous Christian was also away from her husband, Ashiq Masih, and her children, and she will have wondered what the New Year has in store for her.
How her troubles began
Asia's nightmare began back in June of 2009, when she was harvesting falsa berries with a group of mainly Muslim women farmhands in a field in Sheikhupura, a village in Punjab Province. She was asked at one point to fetch water from a nearby well; to which she complied, but stopped to take a drink from an old metal cup that she had found lying next to the well.
A neighbor of Asia, who had allegedly been involved in a running feud with her family about some property damage, saw her take a sip and angrily told her that it was forbidden for a Christian to drink water from the same utensil from which Muslims drank, and then some of the other workers told her that they considered her to be "unclean" because she was a Christian.
Some arguments ensued and Asia recounts that when they made derogatory statements about her Christian faith, she responded by telling them, "I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?"
This incensed the Muslim women, and later some of the workers complained to a local Islamic cleric, claiming that she had insulted Muhammad and soon an angry mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. One report alleged that she was beaten all the way home, then gang-raped by Muslim in from the village, and her children were later sexually molested.
The police initiated an investigation about her remarks which resulted in her arrest under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Asia was subsequently was imprisoned for over a year upon the demands of the local Iman, before being formally charged under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws. Asia Bibi has now been incarcerated since June 2009.
Ms. Bibi has alleged that she had been accused by her neighbor to "settle an old score". In November 2010, Muhammed Naveed Iqbal, a judge at the court of Sheikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging. Additionally, a fine of the equivalent of $1,100 was imposed. With the verdict, she became the first woman condemned to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.
Bounty put on her Head
In December 2010, a month after her conviction, a Muslim cleric announced a 500,000 Pakistani rupee award (the equivalent of $10,000) to anyone who would kill her. One survey reported that around 10 million Pakistanis had said that they would be willing to personally kill Asia out of either religious conviction or for the reward. Many others have gathered in the streets of several town and cities chanting "Kill her, kill her."
If that wasn't bad enough, Asia's family has received death threats, and has been forced to go into hiding. Ashiq, her husband, stated that he was even afraid to let their children go outside. He also expressed concern about how his wife would be kept safe should she ever be released.
"No one will let her live," he said. "The mullahs are saying they will kill her when she comes out."
However, her family has declined to leave the country while she remained in prison, even though Italy, France, and Spain have all offered to grant her and her family asylum in the event of her release.
Pakistan Leaders Murdered
To make matters worse for Asia, two prominent Pakistani leaders, Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, were both murdered for supporting her and speaking out against the country's controversial blasphemy law, which many believe is being misused to settle scores.
Asia was supposed to find out in October at a "final appeal" hearing at Pakistan's Supreme Court whether or not she would be executed, but that decision was delayed indefinitely after Justice Iqbal Hameed, one of the three senior judges who was due to preside over her appeal, suddenly resigned. Hameed claimed that he had heard details of her case during a previous hearing and promptly recused himself. (She was not allowed in court because of fears for her safety).
Now, as the weeks turn into months, many Pakistani Christians are worried that justice will not be done in her case.
"Every day that passes, I fear that she will either be killed in custody and that her death will be masked as a natural death, or that she will finally fail her Supreme Court hearing -- as this would be the most popular decision in a country riven with hate," wrote Wilson Chowdhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) on his group's website.
"Sadly that position is even held by much of the Judiciary (officials) who have also been blinded by the hate agenda promulgated through media and the education system in Pakistan."
According to media reports, less than two percent of Pakistanis identify as Christians, and the country remains among the worst persecutors of Christians, ranking sixth on Open Doors USA's 2015 World Watch List. (North Korea is the worst in this list of shame).
We at ANS pledge to continue to bring you vital updates on this travesty of a case, and also of the many other Christians who, like Asia Bibi, have endured a lonely Christmas, particularly in the refugee camps of the Middle East, or in the prisons in Iran.
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Photo captions: 1) Asia Bibi before her arrest with two of her daughters. 2) Muslims who want Asia Bibi to hang. 3) Ashiq Masih, Asia Bibi's husband, with three of their children. 4) Salmaan Taseer visiting with Asia Bibi after her arrest. Many believe that he was murdered because of his support for Ms. Bibi. 5) Dan Wooding with his BPCA award.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, 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 more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder of the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and he hosts a weekly radio show and two TV shows, all based in in Southern California. Dan also is the author of some 45 books and has received a special award from the BPCA for his reporting on the plight of Pakistani Christians who are suffering for their faith.
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