Pakistan (MNN/VOM) — In Pakistan, believers marked the one-year anniversary of the All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar.
On 22 September 2013, two suicide bombers attacked, killing 98 people. Over 150 were injured. Though regarded as the worst attack on a church in the country’s history, Christians and other religious minorities remain vulnerable, despite government efforts to quell extremist persecution.
At the same time, the country’s blasphemy laws remain firmly in place. The message this sends to the Christian community is, “You don’t matter.” Blasphemy laws are often wielded as a weapon against Christians, placing the burden of proof on the accused, rather than on the accuser.
Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA, says abuse of the law is rampant. “If you have a property dispute, if you have some kind of a relational dispute, you can simply accuse somebody of blasphemy and they get locked up for years even if there’s no evidence, even if there’s no case against them.”
The figurehead for that issue is Asia Bibi. In June 2009, she was involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries after the other women became angry at her for drinking the same water as they drank.
One of the women accused her of blasphemy, and Asia was arrested and imprisoned. Nettleton says, “When that kind of a conversation can lead to five years in prison, you can imagine that any Christian thinks twice about sharing their faith. They think twice about sharing Jesus with their Muslim neighbors and co-workers and friends.”
Asia was convicted in 2009 of blasphemy against the prophet Mohamed, sentenced to death, but appealed immediately. Nettleton says, “That appeal was a couple of years ago, and she’s been waiting ever since for the High Court to hear her appeal. We’ve had six times now where they’ve announced a hearing and said, Yes, we’re going to have a hearing,’ and they have delayed for some reason or another.”
According to the Voice of the Martyrs, last week’s court hearing was postponed again, but this time reportedly at the request of her husband, Ashiq Masih. “The judge has said that this going to be the last time. The hearing is now scheduled for October 16. Basically the judge has said, ‘We are going to have that hearing one way or another.'”
Nettleton goes on to say that even if things go Bibi’s way in the appeal, it’s still not over. “Even if the court dismisses the charges and she walks out of the courtroom a free woman, she’s not a safe woman at that point. There have been threats against her. What we hope for is justice and that will mean that she’s set free. But then, at that point, she becomes a marked woman on the outside of prison.”
A demand for change would go deep, says Nettleton. “Really, the injustice of the blasphemy laws is something that needs to be addressed by the Pakistani government, and it’s something that so far they haven’t addressed in the main due to the pressure from radicals in Pakistan who don’t want the laws to change.”
Please continue to pray for Asia Bibi, as well as for her husband, Ashiq, and their daughters. “Pray for justice. We pray for a fair hearing. We pray for the judges to rule fairly and correctly. And I think we need to pray for the safety in the process. The judges in her case have been threatened.”
For the Church at large in Pakistan, “Pray for encouragement, that they won’t be overcome by fear, but that they can march boldly forward and can be bold witnesses for Christ in spite of the risk that that entails.”