Tense Christmas weekend ahead in Pakistan

While most of us are making last minute Christmas purchases, Christians in Pakistan are hoping for a peaceful rally on Christmas day. As I note in this column on Christian Post today, the situation there is tense.

Without leaving her jail cell in the Punjab province of Pakistan, Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five who has been sentenced to death by a regional court for allegedly blaspheming Muhammad, will be at the center of a tense Christmas weekend. Over a year and half ago, Ms. Bibi was involved in a dispute with Muslim neighbors who accused her of violating laws forbidding negative speech about Muhammad. Even though she denied the charges, she has been jailed since then and her plight has brought international attention to Pakistan’s laws regulating religious speech. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have called for Bibi’s release.

I spoke yesterday morning with Raza Anjum, the British public official who is in Lahore to try to win Bibi’s release. He described a very tense situation and I am concerned that the situation could erupt. With Islamic groups calling for a strike, and the death of Bibi in the days before the Christian groups march on Christmas day, the security situation is very tense.

“There have been a lot of protests going on by extremist groups because they are trying to politicize the issue and distorting the actual facts and the truth behind this case. They’ve been protesting quite regularly, last week we had about three protests,” he explained.

As the Christmas holiday approaches, Mr. Anjum hopes his efforts can secure safety and justice for Asia Bibi. He plans to visit with her in jail on Christmas Day.

CNN and WaPo have more on the situation. The blasphemy laws were recently considered by the UN with the closest vote to discourage them in years, according to Human Rights First.

If you have not done so, go sign the petition in support of Asia Bibi. If you have signed, please send the link to some friends and give Asia and the religious minorities in Pakistan a Christmas present of your time.

Radio Australia summarizes Asia Bibi blasphemy case

This radio broadcast is the best summary of the Asia Bibi case I have found. Click the link to listen to this segment on Windows Media Player.

Radio Australia – Asia Bibi

You hear from Ms. Bibi who describes the false charges of blasphemy, the Governor who wants to pardon her, the legislator who has tabled a bill to amend the blasphemy laws, and the Imam who wants to kill her.

Please listen and go sign the petition directed at Pakistani government leaders.

What Asia Bibi is up against in Pakistan

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman in Pakistan convicted of blasphemy against Muhammad and sentenced to death, has an appeal hearing this week. However, don’t expect the legal profession as an institution to help her or push for human rights. This article in Pakistan’s The Nation, quotes the President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir, who urges no change in the blasphemy laws and no help for Asia Bibi.

The Bar committee, also attended by the vice president of the provinces, the secretary and the other office-holders, unanimously carried a resolution to refrain the government from amending the Blasphemy Law and also granting pardon to Asia Bibi, a condemned prisoner on the same charges. The Bar expressed serious concern over Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s move to get presidential pardon for Asia when her appeal was pending hearing before the court of law.

They said the government functionaries were seeking amendment or a complete repeal of the said law, which it said, was a shameful effort being made under a foreign agenda, which is strongly condemnable.

“In no circumstance, any amendment encouraging or creating any effort to defile the sacred name and personality of Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) can be brought upon the statute book.”

The Committee has unanimously warned the government and the members of the Parliament to refrain from implementing any such proposal. “The SCBA and the legal fraternity would never accept any such pardon and amendment and it would be resisted by every possible efforts”, it added.

Gov. Salman Taseer has taken a great risk to call for pardon for Asia. And apparently any lawyer that will defend her will be acting in contradiction to this resolution of Pakistan’s association of lawyers. The slogan on the front page of the website is “The help you need when you need it most.” However, this is a hollow sentiment when it only applies to the Muslim in-group.

UPDATE: A report from the Pakistan Daily Times clarifies the stance of the Bar Association.

SCBA clarifies news report

LAHORE: This is to deny that the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), in its second executive committee meeting held on December 18, unanimously passed any resolution regarding either Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code itself or any case related to it.

The facts are that a resolution to that effect was presented by a member of the executive committee, but only a portion of it was passed unanimously, which paid reverence and commitment to honour and respect the name of the holy Prophet (PBUH), while the rest of the resolution regarding 295C, the case of Aasia Bibi and its consequences was deferred with consensus.

The Supreme Court Bar Association regrets the attempt made by one of its executive members to mislead the press and the public. The SCBA is a responsible body and its resolutions will be fully debated before being passed, especially unanimously.

British politician will spend Christmas in Pakistan with Asia Bibi

I admire Raza Anjum for putting himself on the line on behalf of Pakistan Christian, Asia Bibi. Bibi, convicted in Pakistan of violating the nation’s blasphemy law, has become the subject of an international effort to see her pardoned and freed from prison. According to Politics.co.uk, Anjum

…arrived in Pakistan at the end of last week and has since been organising meetings with senior officials including the prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani.

Mr Anjum, who represents the small market town of Saffron Waldon in Essex, expressed optimism that his efforts would “make a real difference” in the case of Asia Bibi – who is seeking a pardon from her death sentence.

Ms Bibi claims the charges of blasphemy brought against her were the result of a personal dispute with her neighbours.

Mr Anjum told politics.co.uk: “I feel that my efforts are progressing positively. There seems to be a widespread recognition amongst Pakistani politicians that this controversial case is a result of a personal dispute and that the blasphemy laws have been wrongly applied.

“In my discussion with various politicians I have emphasised the unjust nature of this case and I have called for the immediate release and pardon of Asia Bibi.”

Sign a petition here to speak up for Asia Bibi.

Sign the petition to free Asia Bibi

Please sign this petition targeting the Ambassador to the United States from Pakistan, along with Pakistan’s Human Rights Minister.

Writing in 1954, psychologist Gordon Allport said, “The role of religion is paradoxical. It makes prejudice and it unmakes prejudice.” In no case is Allport’s observation better illustrated than in the tragic situation of Asia Noreen Bibi. On Monday, NPR’s Julie McCarthy chronicled the story of Bibi, a 45 year-old, Christian mother of five who is now in a Pakistani jail with a death sentence over her head. Her crime? She was convicted last month of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad, which under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, allowed the court to sentence her to death. Although no person has yet been executed under these laws, local Muslim extremists, including those representing the Taliban, have threatened violence if she is not executed.

Bibi has been in prison for over a year, awaiting the resolution of her fate, after being arrested following a verbal altercation with Muslim co-workers. According to reports, the Muslim women refused to accept water from her, calling her “unclean” due to her faith. She reportedly defended herself and then later was detained by the women, who tried to convert her. When this failed, Bibi was arrested and held in isolation until recently when the sentence of death was handed down.

Last week, Imam Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, who once gained international notoriety by calling for the murder of Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of Muhammad, issued a $5800 reward for the murder of Bibi. Qureshi said that Muslim extremists will kill Bibi if she is freed.

Asia Bibi’s case requires an international outcry from people of all religious views. The bullying and murder of minority religious adherents in Pakistan must stop. Call upon the Pakistani government to free Asia Bibi and to guarantee safety for her and her family.

Free Asia Bibi

This from NPR:

It began in the summer of 2009 as a quarrel over water in a sweltering farm field in the province of Punjab. When the heated words were over, Asia Noreen Bibi was charged under the strict blasphemy laws of predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

A Christian wife and mother, the woman commonly known as Asia Bibi was convicted by a district court last month of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. The punishment is mandatory death and Asia Bibi became the first female in Pakistan to be sentenced to hang for blasphemy.

Asia Bibi at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore

APAsia Bibi at a prison in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, on Nov. 20.  She appeared in a televised interview from her prison, tearfully denying the blasphemy charges that led to her death sentence.

Asia Bibi, a Roman Catholic, says she did not commit the crime. The case has drawn international condemnation, and Pope Benedict XVI has called for Asia Bibi’s release.

What will you do today to help free Asia Bibi? The State Department needs to know that you want this matter to be a prominent topic of discussion with Pakistan (202.647.9823).

Anti-Christian atrocities in Pakistan

Horrible. Just horrible. Let’s stand with our brothers and sisters and lift them up.

A spasm of religious violence came to this rural town in the shape of an angry Muslim mob Saturday morning. The Muslims marched to avenge what they believed was the desecration of a Koran one week earlier. When it was over, dozens of houses were torched and Faith Bible Pentecostal Church lay in ruins. Two villagers were shot dead, residents said. Five others, including two children, burned alive.

Killing has become commonplace in Pakistan. But this attack startled the country both for its ferocity and for its stark message to religious minorities. Many saw the violence as further evidence of the growing power of the Taliban and allied Islamist militant groups in Punjab province, home to about half of Pakistan’s population.

“They have made up their minds to crush Christianity. They always call us dogs of America, agents of America,” said Romar Sardar, an English teacher from the area. “There has been no protection by the police. Nothing.”

More detail is provided on Crosswalk.com.