The tragic case of Asia Bibi needs our support
May 8 2016Aasiya Noreen, or Asia Bibi as she is better known, still languishes in death row inside a Pakistani prison. Her "crime" was drinking water from the same bucket as her Muslim co-workers and then defending their charges that she was unclean and had polluted them by confirming her faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour.
Her case has gone to appeal in the Lahore High Court where the sentence was upheld. After further appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan she has had a temporary stay on her execution until the appeals process is concluded. Despite enormous support from outside of Pakistan, her imprisonment, now over five years long, continues.
In Pakistan itself the blasphemy law raises its own controversy. In 2011 the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was killed by one of his bodyguards. During the trial of his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri, a defence was mounted that Taseer, by opposing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and supporting Asia Bibi, was himself a blasphemer who deserved to die. Qadri was convicted and sentenced to death in late 2011. His execution took place earlier this year but he is viewed by many people in Pakistan as a hero and public rallies were held in his support.
It is easy to see the compounding effect of laws like Pakistan’s blasphemy laws when they are combined with a hostile public sentiment towards the tiny Christian minority. We saw the further tragedy of the bombing in Lahore that targeted the Christian community over the Easter weekend. It resulted in an appalling loss of life. At the recent Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, I met a member of the Church of Pakistan who lives in Lahore. As she spoke of attending fifteen funerals in a single day, I gained some measure of the suffering of the many bereaved. With heaviness of heart and firm conviction we adopted a resolution of solidarity and advocacy for Asia Bibi.
At the last meeting of Archbishop in Council on 28 April, I proposed a motion, which was unanimously endorsed, expressing the Council’s soliditarity with and prayer for Asia and other victims of the Pakistani blasphemy law, in concert with the ACC’s Resolution. The motion urges that Asia’s case be re-investigated and that she be honourably acquitted.
We live at a great distance from Pakistan but we should not feel disconnected from the plight of that Christian community. Only a few weeks ago the Urdu congregation that meets at All Saint’s Kooyong gathered in remembrance of those killed and injured in the Lahore Easter bombing.
We should also not forget that it is less than three years since 127 people were killed by two suicide bombers in the attack on the worshippers at All Saint’s Peshawar.
My encouragement is for us all to be attentive to people from Pakistan, and to offer support and comfort to them. It is important that we use the means open to us to advocate for better protection of the Christians of Pakistan. A letter to Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, urging her to advocate for Asia Bibi and the protection of Pakistani Christians generally is not difficult for most of us. Similarly a letter to the Pakistani High Commissioner in Canberra helps the government of that country know that Australians are not complacent and are watching their human rights record. Please join me in writing such letters and make prayer for our wider Anglican family part of your own prayer life and the intercessions of your parish.
Read more from Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Melbourne, at http://www.anglicanprimate.com.au