Pakistan (MNN) — Three Pakistani Supreme Court judges decided the fate of Asia Bibi yesterday, but they’re keeping that verdict under lock and key for now. More details here.
Nehemiah* is a Pakistani pastor helped by FMI. He says the judges might be waiting for a more opportune moment to release their decision.
“Maybe…they don’t want to give a special verdict at this time because of the situation in Pakistan,” he says, describing the pressure and tension surrounding this high-profile case.
Who’s Asia Bibi?
Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, has spent the last nine years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Her case made her the “poster child” of Christian persecution as a result of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. As such, the judges’ verdict in this case carries serious repercussions.
In 2009, Bibi’s Muslim co-workers accused her of blasphemy. She was convicted and sentenced to death the following year. As described here, Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy laws are often used explicitly to persecute Christians.
“The people who falsely charged her, there is no evidence, no evidence at all,” notes Nehemiah.
Salman Taseer, a former governor of the central Punjab province, spoke out on behalf of Asia Bibi and wanted to repeal Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. However, in 2011, the politician’s bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri shot Taseer 28 times in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market.
Qadri was hailed as a hero, according to DW, but eventually met his demise:
“Qadri was sent to the gallows in 2016, and his supporters believe that Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government executed him under international pressure. So if the Supreme Court reverses the death sentence now, the right-wing parties and groups are likely to take to the streets. They fear that any concession to Bibi, or any other blasphemy victim, might lead to amendments in the Islamic laws and open a door to the secularization of Pakistan.”
Asia Bibi has ping-ponged between courtrooms and a prison cell for more than nine years. There’s mounting international pressure on Pakistan to free her. At the same time, militant Islamists are threatening violence if the judges don’t carry out her death sentence.
“If there is any attempt to hand her [Bibi] over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences,” one group said in a statement.
What will happen next?
The Supreme Court judges aren’t saying when they will release their verdict. While there is no clear “next step” for Bibi’s case, Nehemiah says there are a few directions the verdict could go.
If the judges uphold Bibi’s conviction, her only option would be a direct appeal to Pakistan’s president for mercy. Asia Bibi would become the first person executed for blasphemy in Pakistan if the president rejects her cry for help.
Or, the judges could overturn Bibi’s conviction and she would be released from prison – but she still wouldn’t be safe. Bibi and her family would become “high priority targets” for radical Islamic groups scattered throughout Pakistan, Nehemiah says.
There’s also a third option on the table. The judges might suspend the death penalty, Nehemiah explains, and change it to life imprisonment. “In Pakistan, life imprisonment is 14 years total,” he says. The start date would be the only thing in question.
“They will either start the 14 years from scratch, or they will subtract what she’s already served from the total sentence,” says Nehemiah.
“The most probable thing is they will execute her, so please pray [about] this.”
Please ask the Lord to embolden the Supreme Court judges and remove their fear. Pray they will not succumb to the threats of radicals, but that instead their verdict will be rooted in justice. Pray for God’s supernatural comfort and peace to surround Asia Bibi and her family.
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*Name changed for security purposes.