Pakistan in turmoil following blasphemy acquittal

By November 1, 2018

Pakistan (MNN) – Eight years after the nightmare began, there’s a glimmer of hope for Pakistan’s Asia Bibi, a mother of four, convicted of blasphemy in 2010. New beginnings are on the horizon: faith, freedom, and family.

Her case is well known. The trial stemmed from accusations that surfaced in 2009 over a fight over a bucket of water. Asia was working a harvest and drank a cup of water from the bucket; co-laborers refused to drink after her, claiming her Christian faith made it unclean. An argument ensued, which led to the accusations that she had blasphemed the Prophet Mohammed.

(Photo courtesy of VOM)

In 2010, amid pressure to force her to recant Christ, her trial ended with a guilty verdict and the courts sentenced her to death. Asia’s legal team started the appeals, which ended with a final appeal before the Supreme Court on 08 October.

Although the Court made a decision, they reserved the verdict due to national security challenges. A few days later, the government asked the court to hold the verdict until they addressed the concerns.

FMI’s executive director Bruce Allen says there was cause to delay. With news of Wednesday’s acquittal, ”The country is in uproar, mostly because the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party is calling for protests against this verdict. It has called for death to the justices on the Supreme Court; it has called for the ouster of the newly elected Prime Minister.”

Fallout, reprisal violence expected

Reports from FMI’s country director, Brother Nehemiah, indicate that “The government has put into effect what’s called ‘Section 144’ of their code,” explains Allen, adding that the order is, “effective today through November 10th. It bans all gatherings in public places, ostensibly to reduce the risk of riots, mob violence.”

In spite of the precautions, the response has been brutal, violent and explosive.

“I already have reports this morning from across Pakistan, the capital Islamabad, major cities like Lahore, Karachi, other places, where the protests are already in full swing. Roads are blocked and life is being choked out in terms of transportation, business, regular, daily activities.”

For now, the details of Asia Bibi’s release and evacuation will remain under wraps. She’s still under threat of multiple fatwas, which are legal rulings under Sharia law. In this case, the sentences accompanying the fatwas called for death.

Hard-line Islamist leaders have also placed a bounty on her head, so even though she’s been acquitted, it’s not over yet, Allen says.

“We rejoice with her and we pray for the Lord to restore ‘the years that the locusts have eaten,’ that she is swiftly and safely reunited with her family. I understand right now, they are in the United Kingdom (UK), waiting for her. We have to also understand what’s happening to the rest of the country because of that verdict and its social upheaval.”

What now?

(Photo courtesy of CallforMercy.com)

The few days’ delay also allowed FMI’s leadership team in Pakistan to prepare church planters and disciple-makers for the next few turbulent days. Allen believes that the time cushion will prevent their team from being blindsided by reprisal violence.

“They may still have to deal with attacks, burnings and other sorts of persecution, but they’re also buoyed by the assurances and the promises that it doesn’t mean that God has turned His back on them. In fact, this persecution has a tendency to build a more robust faith.”

Taking a step back from the lightning rod of Asia Bibi’s case reveals a bigger picture for the need to reform the blasphemy laws. The judges said the prosecution had “categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt”.

In their 60-page ruling, “The Supreme Court Justices were condemning the extrajudicial attacks in the streets, the fatwas that are issued against people, merely because they’ve been accused of blasphemy. They talk about the fact that those who make false accusations are just as guilty of the blasphemy as they’re charging other people with.”

In fact, they quote from the Quran and the Hadith frequently in the opinion, “to show that they need to, as a society, deal with blasphemy in a way that’s different than the way that they currently are doing.”

To that end, Allen urges prayer for the government, and for the people on the streets. “Pray for reform in the country, that this case will motivate Parliament to address the reforms that are needed for the blasphemy laws.”

With reprisal violence expected, he also reminds us to, “Pray that the Christians have courage in the days ahead, that they know how to engage their neighbors with gentleness and respect, and that they have courage–they have the ability to forgive those who attack them.”

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