UPDATE: “One of the three judges who sit on the Pakistani Supreme Court’s three-judge panel has recused himself from hearing Asia Bibi’s appeal, citing a personal conflict of interest. So, the court has now suspended hearing her appeal indefinitely. The government knew this was a volatile case – one with international attention – and had deployed thousands of security forces across the capital city of Islamabad to prepare for repercussions from the outcome.” Bruce Allen, Forgotten Missionaries International
Pakistan (MNN) — Today, the Pakistan Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Asia Bibi’s appeal against her death penalty sentence for blasphemy. A 51-year-old wife and mother, Bibi’s case has been ongoing and earned international attention over the past seven years.
Forgotten Missionaries International’s Bruce Allen recaps Bibi’s situation for us:
“Her incident took place in 2009, and it was a result of her trying to share water with colleagues and a discussion that ensued after that because her Muslim coworkers were offended by the fact that she would share water from a vessel she had drunk from, and that was taboo for them [because she is a Christian].
“Her initial imprisonment [was] just shortly thereafter in 2009, and she was sentenced to death in 2010. That sentence obviously has not been served in terms of being implemented, but she has just languished in a series of prisons over the course of time. Sometimes she has been transferred because of death threats while she’s in prison. So there have been security factors. There have been health issues for her as well.
“In summer 2015, there was a hearing at the Supreme Court in Pakistan. They suspended implementing that death sentence. It still stands that she is sentenced to death, but they were permitting an appeal.”
That appeal court date for Bibi is today, Allen explains. “Her lawyer is going to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider deficiencies that are in the case, in my mind some glaring deficiencies, because this appeal was allowed. So he’s going to be citing poor investigation and manipulation of evidence by the local police.”
One big question with this appeal: is it truly a glimmer of hope for Bibi and her family?
“There is a chance she could be released,” says Allen. “Many Christians around the world are continuing to pray for her, for her release, for her freedom, for her family to be reunited. And yet, I’d have to say even if she is released, there is still the sentence of death hanging over her, not in the legal judicial sense, but just from mob violence because the Muslims do want her dead.”
Justice in Pakistan is very hard to come by, even for the average citizen. But it is especially true for Pakistani Christians and other religious minorities.
Allen shares, “One of the interesting things, though, that even our national director in Pakistan reminds me of is the court decision, even though it will be heard by a jury, the jury is selected, hand-picked, by the government. So the government is basically ensuring any verdict the court is going to surrender will be in party line, so they deal with very little implications or repercussions. It will be interesting to see what the court actually decides in the next few days regarding Asia Bibi.”
Bibi’s case has snagged the attention of the international community. High profile organizations and individuals such as Pope Francis and The European Parliament have called for Bibi’s pardon. The outcome of her case will be a reflection on humanitarian rights in Pakistan.
There have been positive hints or strides towards justice in Pakistan. Last week, a joint session of Parliament in Pakistan unanimously approved anti-rape and anti-honor killing legislation. Yet, only time will tell if the legislation truly invokes change.
Meanwhile, Bibi awaits the jury’s decision on her appeal. And she isn’t the only one stuck in Pakistan’s judicial limbo, remarks Allen.
“There are 500 people at least, Christians, who are in prison on these blasphemy charges. Most of them are all trumped-up because people just use them to say, ‘I have a bone to pick with someone, so I’m going to accuse them of blasphemy,’ and then that person’s life is in upheaval. They’ll just languish in prison. And even though a life sentence is only supposed to be 14 years, many of those blasphemy cases, they’ve been languishing in prison for more than 30 years.”
Please pray today for Asia Bibi, that she would be released from prison and protected from violence. Pray that her faith and courage would remain strong, no matter what happens, and that others would see her witness and come to know Jesus Christ.