By Robin Gomes
Christian Churches and groups in Pakistan have responded to the call of death row Christian woman, Asia Bibi, to join her in a special day of prayer and fasting on Friday for her release.
Her appeal was conveyed by her family that visited her recently and by the Renaissance Education Foundation in Lahore that supports her family and bears her legal costs.
In perhaps Pakistan’s most famous blasphemy case, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting Muhammad, an allegation she denies. Pakistan's Supreme Court adjourned her death sentence appeal on October 13, 2016, after one of the 3 judges recused himself from the case.
Asia Bibi’s hope revived after hearing her lawyer Saiful Malook declare that the Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court Saqib Nisar would soon establish the date for the next hearing before the Supreme Court.
Asia Bibi thus called on Christians all over the world to pray and fast with her on April 27.
Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore spoke to the Vatican’s Fides news agency saying the Church’s hope and heart would be with her on April 27, united in a special day of prayer and fasting Asia Bibi, “praying to God for her freedom and peace."
To know more about the response to the call of Asia Bibi for the April 27 prayer and fasting, Vatican News spoke to Cecil Shane Chaudhry the executive director of the National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP), of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC).
Speaking from Lahore, Chaudhry noted that Archbishop Shaw was among those who spread Asia Bibi’s call to all in Pakistan. Chaudhry confirmed that the Catholic parishes in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation were observing a fast and praying with her.
Chaudhry said he was aware that even other Christian denominations, such as the Church of Pakistan and the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan, had joined the campaign and prayed that “justice be served in the right way” so that Asia Bibi “may be acquitted”, and she can be re-united with her family as soon as possible.
Response from all Christians
The Pakistan Bishops Council and numerous parishes, including the lay Catholic movement ‘Jesus Youth Pakistan’, had declared their participation in the prayer and fasting initiative.
Bishop Khadim Bhutto, chairman of the Pakistan Bishops Council, that includes some 40 bishops of several Protestant Churches, movements and fellowships, spoke to Fides, expressing their solidarity with Asia Bibi, who, he said, has suffered far too long. Bishop Bhutto also called for speedy justice for other innocent persons languishing in jail like her.
Asia Bibi has been detained since 2009 on false charges of blasphemy reported by Muslim women and an Imam, following an argument over sharing a bowl of water with fellow workers in a field. In November 2010 she was given the death sentence by the lower court in Nanka district and four years later the verdict was confirmed by Lahore High Court. She imprisoned in the Multan female prison.
Insulting the Prophet Muhammad in Pakistan is a crime punishable by death, while offending the Koran, Islam holy book, incurs life imprisonment. The blasphemy laws remain an extremely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim nation where Christians form just 1.6% of the population.
These laws have drawn intense criticism even within the country. Rights organizations say the laws are often misused to settle personal scores, and many of their victims are also Muslims.
During a special event organized in Rome on 24 February to express solidarity for those persecuted for their faith across the world, Pope Francis had a private meeting with Asia Bibi’s husband and their youngest daughter Eisham.
Earlier in 2010, Pope Benedict XVI had added his voice to international calls for the release Asia Bibi.