Pakistan (MNN) — There’s FINALLY been movement in Asia Bibi’s case in Pakistan Bruce Allen with Forgotten Missionaries International confirms, “The Supreme Court of Pakistan stayed the execution of Asia Bibi. She was a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy on fairly trumped charges stemming from a labor dispute years ago. She has been in jail since2009 and on death row since 2010.”
The court also granted the Christian woman leave to appeal. Allen explains, “The lower courts had upheld her death penalty, but the Supreme Court said, ‘We are going to stay that execution.’ So that is good news, in and of itself.”
Asia Bibi’s case started in 2009 when she said these words to a group of women she was arguing with: “Our Christ sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins….Our Christ is alive.” She was accused, tried, and convicted of insulting the prophet Muhammad.
After a lengthy trial, on Nov. 8, 2010, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by a judge. Since then, she’s been in and out of courts with appeals. In October 2014, the high court in Lahore (where the incident took place) upheld Bibi’s death sentence.
The decision on July 22 reverses a lower court ruling from last October and breathed new hope into her case. Could there be a full acquittal on blasphemy charges? On that point, Allen pauses. “She could be acquitted. It’s too early to say, and there’s more that will be forthcoming from the Supreme Court on this. This was just the first part of the hearing.”
Good news to celebrate, Allen agrees. However, “There still is a hard road ahead for her–she’s still in prison. And even if the wheels of justice move in her favor and she is released, we have to remember that local Muslim clerics have put a price on her head.” The American Center for Law & Justice notes he’s offering a half million rupee bounty for anyone who kills Asia.
International pressure has been mounting, not only calling for Asia’s release, but also for reform on the blasphemy laws. Reform has been a hot-button topic in Pakistan. The last two politicians who called for change were assassinated in 2011. For that reason, says Allen, “The situation is at a knife’s edge in Pakistan regarding this case and other cases like it. They may say, ‘No, we’ll keep her in prison. We won’t execute her, but we’re not going to take further action on the case,’ or something like that.”
In fact, the code was implemented nearly three decades ago to appease religious parties. Today, the laws are seen as being regularly misused to settle personal scores. Since 1984, nearly a thousand people have been convicted of blasphemy and thousands more accused of blasphemy.
Despite the threat, more than 150,000 Christians in Pakistan have signed a petition demanding justice for persecution victims, including Asia Bibi. Will it be enough? The pressure counts for a lot. Allen says, “There were some objections raised. That could be taken up in the next hearing of the case. We’re just glad that there was some movement on the case because it has been a long time since any action was taken legally on her behalf.”
What now? Asia Bibi isn’t out of the woods yet. Long imprisonment has taken its toll. “Prayer is still needed. Pray for her health that God would be touching her body and restoring her and refreshing her.” Pray for wisdom and safety for her legal counsel, adds Allen. “People who speak out in her defense, or who speak out on the blasphemy laws, are targets for violence. So we can be praying for Asia’s lawyer, for his protection because he’s taken on a high-profile case that is very divisive in that country.” For her husband and children, Allen asks you to remember their needs, too.
In spite of the upward trend in harassment, discrimination, and worse, the Pakistani Church is still growing. Growth means the hope of Christ is still getting out through the ministry of nearly 30 national pastors and evangelists who are partnering with FMI. They also provide tangible support, such as bicycles for pastors’ transportation, materials for church site construction, and helps maintain a network of safe houses for persecuted believers. For details, click here.