Pakistan (MNN) – This year marks Asia Bibi’s 9th year she’s spent imprisoned. Yet, the Pakistani government continues to delay carrying out her death sentence. In fact, it’s almost as though the same government that gave her this death sentence is protecting her.
Asia Bibi Update
“I have spoken with other people involved in Pastor Ahmed’s blasphemy trial and his defense attorney is intimately acquainted with the Asia Bibi case and what’s been happening with her lately,” FMI’s Bruce Allen shares.
“She has been transferred a number of times from prison to prison inside Pakistan. Usually, it’s been for her own protection because…people have wanted to storm the jails and essentially execute her for the government.”
(Photo Courtesy FMI via Facebook)
The judges in Asia Bibi’s case seem to know the accusations against her are baseless and that it’s a vendetta type of situation. Yet, these same judges won’t release her from prison. Allen says it’s their way of protecting her because if she were to be released, she’d more than likely be killed in the streets moments later.
However, prison isn’t necessarily safe either.
“The report I received this morning is that her physical condition is not good. She’s been vomiting blood lately and she is not receiving the medical attention that she needs. She’s also not being able to have visits from her own family,” Allen explains.
Prison: Safe and Deadly
Since Bibi continues to be shifted from one prison to another and the passion many people have to see her dead, Bibi’s family has had to go into hiding. If they were to try to visit her, they would no doubt be ambushed and attacked before they even reached the prison gates.
This means Bibi has no contact with any person outside of the prison walls except for her lawyer. She doesn’t have other Christians to speak truth into her life and encourage her. She can’t even say the words “I love you” to her family.
It’s also a concern that Bibi will be kept imprisoned until she passes away. However, the real worry comes in regard to her health. It wouldn’t be unheard of if the reasoning behind Bibi’s lack of medical attention is because the judges on her case are hoping it will speed up a natural death.
This happened a few months ago to a man who had been imprisoned under blasphemy charges. He died after not receiving proper medical attention. Within days after his death, he was declared innocent of the blasphemy charges. Some believe this may be the same scenario the government is using with Bibi.
Hope for Blasphemy Law Change
And currently Pakistan’s society is on a knife’s edge and it seems Pakistan’s blasphemy law is riding a teeter-totter when it comes to change. Is there hope? Allen says yes. But, it’s a bit more complicated than most would probably like.
Muslim workers pause for a few minutes along an alleyway in the afternoon to offer their ritual prayers.(Image, caption courtesy FMI)
In past months, the blasphemy law has been at the forefront of Pakistan’s society politically. Just in November, demonstrators gathered for three weeks to protest the slight wording change in the oath parliament officials swear upon entering office.
During this time, some Pakistanis were even calling for more stringent blasphemy laws. Some believe these stricter laws would fall better in line with the Islamic faith. The problem here is Pakistan has a high illiteracy rate. And on top of this, unless the Koran is in Arabic, it isn’t considered the real or accurate Islamic teachings.
This means people who are illiterate or don’t know Arabic are at the mercy to believe whatever those who can read the Koran teach. For many, they’re ignorant about their own faith. It also causes a blind trust of Islamic religious leaders, giving them the power to control large amounts of people.
Tact and Politics
In efforts to please the masses, Pakistan’s parliament is doing the same thing as the judges in both Asia Bibi and Ahmed’s blasphemy trials are–stalling.
“Many members of parliament have said we do need to change this. And they kind of put it on the docket it so that they can show the moderns of Pakistan that yes, we want a more democratic, more transparent judiciary,” Allen explains.
“’We’re going to clean up our laws, this is one of them. You know, we hear from the international community that this is one of the things they would like us to do.’ So, they put it on the docket, but then they never really come up with a new bill to replace it, or here’s a new reform to amend it.”
The main reason for the stalling; a fear of revolt. However, the continued use of this tactic inhibits positive change for the blasphemy law and freedom of religion in the country.
And rather than rendering a guilty verdict to a man he knows is innocent, the judge hearing Ahmed’s trial continues to schedule new hearings. For some time after the appointment of this new judge, though, there was concern an under table deal had already been struck between the judge and the accusers.
“We’ve heard that the prosecutors, the accusers of Ahmed, even admitted so much in court that they had bribed the judge and they demand that he render the verdict that they were expecting, a guilty verdict,” Allen explains.
Thankfully, the judge doesn’t seem to be doing this or at least isn’t following through on his part. The judge has even agreed to allow Ahmed’s lawyer to continue representing him so Ahmed does not need to physically appear in court. This move helps protect Ahmed from people who would attack him in or outside the court. It also helps keep him out of the public eye.
“Ahmed is free. He is with his family. He is continuing to do ministry, but he has this legal trial hanging over him like a dark cloud as well as the fatwa* that has been issued against him,” Allen shares.
Ahmed and his family are currently living an almost vagabond lifestyle, keeping on the move to try and stay safe and hidden.
Hope Despite Circumstance
And while what’s happening in both Asia Bibi and Ahmed’s blasphemy cases, there’s still hope. Often times what man intends for evil, God uses for good. It’s a truth which is often seen played out in the Bible.
(Photo Courtesy FMI for MNN use.) Reading the Bible for all to hear in Pakistan.
“Yes, it was evil that Joseph’s brothers abused him, beat him, sold him into slavery to Egypt. And yet, Genesis 39 tells us over and over the Lord was with Joseph in prison and as a slave in Potiphar’s house,” Allen recounts.
“Joseph wasn’t undergoing those trials because God had turned his back on him. No, God had a laser sharp focus on him and it was for the deliverance of many people.”
Both Ahmed and Allen hope that the trials Ahmed, and even Asia Bibi face, will be used to change this blasphemy law and glorify God.
How to Pray
So please, continue to pray for Pakistan’s parliament to appeal or amend the blasphemy law, for the mandatory death sentence to be removed, and for the law to no longer be a tool to settle vendettas with minorities. Ask God to move in the hearts of these leaders to craft laws which protect all Pakistani citizens, not just those from the majority religion.
Pray for Asia Bibi’s health, her safety, and for God’s grace on her body. Also pray for her encouragement spiritually and for God’s grace on her both physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Ask God to protect Ahmed’s family and for them to be granted asylum in a safe country. Pray for the asylum process to move smoothly and for Ahmed’s family to not have to continue living under the threat of the fatwa. Also, pray for Ahmed’s ministry in Pakistan and for God to continue using him to share Christ’s love.
And finally, pray for God to be glorified in both Ahmed’s life and also in Asia Bibi’s.
Share encouragement and/or a prayer for Ahmed and/or Asia Bibi on our Facebook page. FMI works to make sure these notes are seen by Ahmed. And, the knowledge that his brothers and sisters in Christ are praying for him has encouraged Ahmed greatly.
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*The fatwa is a religious edict which gives immunity to any persons who act under its order. The fatwa against Ahmed calls for anyone who finds him to kill him.
**Pakistan has been loosening its grip on foreigner’s ability to enter Pakistan. This is good news for FMI to be able to continue entering Pakistan to offer pastors and church planters training.
***Pakistan is ranked #5 on Open Doors USA’s World Watch List (WWL). The WWL is a list of the top 50 countries where Christian persecution is most severe.