Last week, Pakistan’s High Court rejected the appeal of a Christian woman sentenced to death for the crime of blasphemy. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes, Asia Bibi will be put to death.
After half a dozen postponements and cancellations, Asia Bibi’s appeal was heard on Oct. 16 in the Lahore High Court. The defense took most of 35-minute hearing to argue their side, stating that plaintiffs waited six days before filing a complaint against the Christian woman. They argued that this showed conspiracy and intentional targeting. Her lawyers also pointed out that the man who issued the complaint did not even witness the alleged blasphemous statement. Twenty-five mullahs watched the proceedings from inside the courtroom. Outside, some 2,000 mullahs gathered in an effort to pressure the court into uphold the death sentence.
After the judges deliberated for nearly an hour, they denied her appeal. Asia Bibi’s lawyers now have 30 days to appeal to the Supreme Court, Pakistan’s highest court.
Asia Bibi was arrested in June 2009 after a heated argument with two of her co-workers. Asia worked for a Muslim-landowner as did many of the women in her village. As one of three Christian families in her village, after being pressured to convert to Islam during the spat, she defended her faith. “Our Christ is the true prophet of God,” she reportedly told the women, “and yours is not true.”
For this crime, in November 2010, she was sentenced to death. It took nearly four years before the courts would listen to her appeal. Having her appeal heard before the Supreme Court will likely take just as long. VOM sources say she could expect to wait months or even years.
Ashiq submitted the application for adjournment because his private attorney was not present, though Asia’s legal team was present in the court room. Though the judge was ready to hear the case, the hearing was postponed until Oct. 16, 2014.
The Pakistan Christian Post reported that the judge issued an order saying that the Oct. 16 hearing would be final and there would be no other adjournment.
This is the sixth time that a hearing has been announced in Asia Bibi's appeal against her death sentence and has been postponed or delayed. Reasons so far have ranged from judge's illness, to attorneys not present and other reasons.
Please continue to pray for Asia Bibi, as well as for Ashiq and their daughters. You can also voice your support for Asia's release by signing the online petition at www.CallForMercy.com and by writing letters to her in prison at www.PrisonerAlert.com.
Two weeks ago today, our sister Asia Bibi was scheduled to finally have the appeal against her conviction for blasphemy and resulting death sentence heard by High Court in Lahore, Pakistan. The hearing didn’t happen. No reason for the delay was announced, and no new hearing date was set.
It was the fifth time her appeal has been scheduled to start…and the fifth time there has been a delay. The reasons for the delays have been varied: there have been sick judges and lawyers who couldn’t make it at the appointed hour.
The reality is that no judge wants to hear her case. If they uphold the conviction and death sentence, the world will rain down criticism on the injustice of putting to death a Christian wife and mother. But radical Muslims in Pakistan have announced that there will be a price to be paid by any judge who overturns the verdict and allows Asia Bibi to go free. For the judges, it is a no-win situation.
Now there is an added wrinkle: blasphemy charges were filed recently against the hosts of a popular morning TV show in Pakistan, who are Muslims but had the temerity to play a Sufi Muslim song during a wedding portrayed on their program. There are reports that the government wants to have those charges overturned before they will allow Asia Bibi’s case to go forward.
Every time one of these announced hearing dates comes and goes without any actual progress on her appeal my heart goes out to Asia Bibi, her husband and especially her daughters. Can you imagine the emotional roller coaster each of these days must be for them?
Imagine you are in prison. You know you are innocent. Finally the day comes when you will be able to stand before the judge and present your appeal, to prove your innocence. You imagine the joy you’ll feel when he announces that you are free. You picture yourself wrapping your arms around your daughters; you wonder how long you’ll hold them before you let go. You picture your husband’s smile as he wraps you in a hug. How many people will be waiting at the house when you arrive home? How wonderful it will be to sleep in your own bed!
And then the appointed day comes. Your freedom is so close you can smell and taste it. You rise from bed, hopeful that you’ve spent your last night in prison.
But nothing happens. The judge is sick. Or the lawyer can’t make it. Or, even more frustrating, no reason is given but your case is not called. You spend another night in prison; but now instead of imagining your freedom you’re haunted by the thought that you’ll never be free. You picture your daughters getting married without you there.
Each time her case has been announced and then delayed, I’ve pictured Asia Bibi going through these emotional ups and downs. I’ve thought of her daughters going to bed without a hug from their mom on the night they thought they’d bring her home; her husband wondering again if he’ll ever see his wife outside of prison walls.
On June 19th, it will have been five years since Asia Bibi’s arrest. There is a legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. Justice for Asia Bibi has been delayed, and then delayed again four more times. As of today, no new hearing date has been announced. Who knows when her appeal might go forward?
There are two things we can do. The first is to pray for Asia Bibi and her family. As they ride the emotional roller coaster of this case, we can uphold and support them through our prayers. Secondly, we can have a voice. Write a letter to Asia at www.PrisonerAlert.com. Write a letter to Pakistani officials through the link ("Petition Official") on her page. Ask them to stop delaying justice for our sister.
The Voice of the Martyrs continues to collect signatures on Asia’s behalf at www.CallForMercy.com. Our goal when the site was launched was a million signatures. We are almost to 700,000 right now. If you haven’t signed the online petition, please do so. Even if you already signed, invite your friends to add their voices to yours. These voices are more important than ever to try to get the Pakistani courts to move the appeal forward.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Justice for our sister Asia Bibi has been delayed long enough.
Todd Nettleton has served with The Voice of the Martyrs for 16 years. He’s travelled to more than 20 restricted and hostile nations and interviewed hundreds of believers who’ve faced persecution for their Christian witness. As VOM’s principle media spokesperson, Todd has done more than 2,000 interviews with media outlets ranging from Moody Radio to the BBC and Los Angeles Times. He is the principle author of Restricted Nations: North Korea and was part of the writing team for four other VOM books.
The Lahore High Court has, for the second time in two weeks, delayed the first hearing on Asia Bibi’s appeal of her conviction for blasphemy and the resulting death sentence.
A hearing last week was delayed because one of the two judges set to hear the case was unable to be in court. Today the court convened once again, but had to delay the proceedings when the attorney for the complainant was not present in the court room. The judges waited ten minutes and then announced a delay in the case.
In the case of Asia Bibi, the complainant, or “counterparty,” is Muslim mullah Qari Muhammed Sallam. Sallam is the man who submitted the original complaint in the case on June 19, 2009. The complaint accused Asia Bibi of speaking against the Islamic prophet, Mohammed, on June 14 of that year. Asia Bibi’s lawyers told Agenzia Fides that they will point to the five-day gap between the alleged statements and the complaint being filed as evidence that the charges were fabricated.
Asia Bibi was sentenced to death on November 8, 2010. Her appeal, No. 2509, was filed with the Lahore High Court on November 11, 2010.
Reportedly, April 14 was set for the next attempt to have this initial appeal hearing. VOM contacts in Pakistan are closely monitoring the case.
Please continue to pray for Asia Bibi as she waits in prison for the appeal process to move forward. Pray also for her husband and daughters as they await the court’s decision.
You can still sign the petition asking for Asia Bibi's release at www.CallForMercy.com.
World Magazine published an online story this week about the blasphemy law—Law 295—in Pakistan and how it affects Christians and other minority groups in that nation.
I was interviewed for the story:
Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law makes it illegal to speak against Islam. Todd Nettleton, director of media development at Voice of the Martyrs, said the law is used as a weapon. Worst of all, accusers don’t need any proof. There are no consequences for false accusations, but anyone accused is arrested and imprisoned during the investigation.
I have twice been a part of VOM teams delivering petitions to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC on behalf of one of Law 295’s victims—Asia Bibi. Both times we were welcomed with kindness into the embassy and reminded that more Muslims are accused of blasphemy than Christians.
We were also told that the system works…that when someone is innocent the courts will eventually set them free. That is sometimes true, but it is also true that some of those set free have been murdered by radical Muslims after they were set free, and some were murdered even before they could appear in court.
Perhaps Asia Bibi will be set free, her appeal granted and the death penalty she was sentenced to thrown out by the High Court. But when? The years she has been in prison, separated from her husband and daughters, are years she will never get back. And no court decision can change that.
Please pray for Asia Bibi. Please sign the petition to ask Pakistan’s government to set her free at www.CallForMercy.com. Join us in this call for mercy from an unjust law that affects so many of our brothers and sisters in Pakistan.
Todd Nettleton has served the persecuted church and VOM 15 years. He has been interviewed more than 2000 times by various media outlets. He's the author of Restricted Nations: North Korea, and served on the writing team for FOXE, Extreme Devotion, Hearts of Fire and other VOM books.
“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:14b-15).
Sometimes children are able to see truth in unencumbered, refreshing ways. Jesus loved children, and even challenged his followers to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child.”
At VOM, we acknowledge the mandate of James 1:27 and have a unique interest in serving the underserved, especially children and widows living in areas that experience intense persecution. Pakistan is one of those places.
For several years, VOM has been in active partnership with David C. Cook, a nonprofit organization dedicated to publishing discipleship resources to help Christians all over the world grow in their faith.
Together, we have been able to distribute hundreds of thousands of “Story of Jesus” books in some of the world’s most difficult places. These colorful books, which are similar to “comic books,” introduce Jesus to children in a way that is very compelling. In fact, when I took a copy home to my own children, they were immediately drawn to it.
In July of 2013, two young girls in Pakistan received a copy of “the Story of Jesus” in their native language of Urdu. The Christians who distributed the booklets happily reported that these girls trusted Christ after reading these engaging booklets. Two more sisters were added to our family!
Just a couple of months later, on a sunny Sunday morning, two suicide bombers entered the All Saints Church compound in Peshawar, Pakistan. These Islamists waited until the services were over and the nearly 500 worshipers began to gather for a meal together. At 11:45, they detonated their suicide vests and killed 78 people and injured another 130. It was the deadliest attack on the Christian minority in the history of Pakistan.
In October, I received word that the two young sisters who received “the Story of Jesus” during the July distribution, and began to follow Jesus, were killed in the attack on that bright Sunday morning.
The death of children is especially tough, and many of the victims from Peshawar were women and children. There are never easy answers for difficult situations like this. They serve as vivid reminders of how fallen our world is. But, we do not mourn as those without hope! We believe that “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:6-7).
As you look at the photograph of these two young girls, please remember their families in prayer, along with the other families who lost loved ones in this attack. Pray also for those who plotted this attack. May God’s glory be manifested in all of the chaos that continues in this area. Finally, please pray with us that God will guide us as we do our best to minister in that difficult place.
Dr. Jason Peters serves in VOM’s International Ministries department, traveling frequently to meet with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. He lived overseas for five years and has ministered in more than 30 countries as diverse as Cuba, Nepal, Iraq, Nigeria and Indonesia. He and his wife, Kimberly, along with their five children, count it a great honor to serve with the persecuted church.
Khalid was one of the more than 78 Christians killed in the suicide bombings at All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan on Sept. 22, 2013. A portion of Kahlid's story was included in VOM's January newsletter. More of his story is below, as recounted to VOM workers by Khalid's wife, Shakeela Bibi:
Khalid had been sick and bedridden for several weeks. He was very weak and had lost a lot of weight. Khalid had strong faith in Jesus Christ, though. He was always praying to be healed. Many times, he called pastors for prayer meetings for his healing. My children and I would also fast and pray for Khalid to become healthy again.
After one and a half months, Khalid began to recuperate. It was a miracle. He was finally able to leave his bed if he walked slowly. He was putting on weight once again; a sign of improving health. Khalid always told me, “Shakeela, when I am healed, I will go to church to give thanks to the Lord!”
On Sept. 21, 2013, Khalid was looking better. His face was shining and looking beautiful. He looked like a healthy man again. I was also very happy that now God had blessed him with good health. That evening, Khalid said, “Shakeela, now I am fine and healthy. Tomorrow is Sunday, so I will go to church to give thanks to the Lord.” I said, “Yes, this is good, and you also promised the Lord that after healing you would go to church.”
On Sept. 22, Khalid woke up early in the morning. He gathered his clothes to iron them. I said, “Give them to me. I will iron your clothes.”
Khalid said, “No, Shakeela, let me iron them myself. God gave me health, so I will get ready for him by myself.” I smiled and told him, “Go ahead and get ready for church.”
After Khalid was ready to go, our younger son said, “Papa, I will go with you.” But Khalid reminded him, “Dear son, you have promised your auntie to go to her home. So, go there and I will come there after the prayer service.”
At 11:45 a.m., I was informed by people in the street that there was bomb blast at the church. My children and I ran to the church. We searched for Khalid everywhere. Somebody told us that Khalid was injured and that people had taken him to the hospital. At the hospital, we learned that Khalid died on the way there.
Though no words from others could bring peace or patience to me, the Bible has words for my peace. The Lord gave peace and patience to my children and me.
We wondered, “If God wanted Khalid’s martyrdom, then why did he heal Khalid?”
God watched over Khalid during his illness. Khalid had a strong faith in the Lord, and he was faithful to the Lord. He always asked the Lord for his healing without losing faith that it would happen.
The Bible says, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev 2:10)
Khalid never lost faith in the Lord, so the Lord gave him the crown of life.
If Khalid had died as a result of the illness, then he could not be a martyr. Nobody would remember him except for his family members. But now, Khalid is a martyr and the whole world will remember him. It is a witness for the whole world that Khalid is a martyr for the Lord.
Khalid’s martyrdom was for the Lord’s glory.
If you missed it, read the story of another of the All Saints Church martyrs, Saba Pervez, in yesterday's blog post. VOM provides help and support to the families of martyrs, like Shakeela Bibi, through the Families of Martyrs Fund. We invite you to make a gift online to support those like Shakeela Bibi who have lost a family member because of their witness for Christ.
Saba Pervez was one of more than 87 Christians killed in the suicide bombings at All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan on Sept. 22, 2013. A portion of her story was told in VOM's January newsletter. Here is more of her story, as told to VOM workers by her sister, Sumble:
Sept. 21, 2013 was a normal Saturday evening. Saba and I decided to go to church services in the morning. My sister and I were very excited to go church as we had not made it the past few Sundays because we had university examinations. We missed being able to go to the prayer services. We went to bed early so that we could get up the next morning to go to church.
That next morning, Saba got up early to iron our clothes. When I woke up, I saw her ironing her red dress. Both that dress and color were her favorite. I was surprised to see that red dress because it had been a long time since she had worn the color at all.
Last time she wore the red dress, she was embarrassed by all the attention she received. She looks very pretty in red and everybody was looking at her. After that day, she never wore red.
We went to church. The prayer service started at 9 and finished at 11 a.m. The message delivered was from Matt. 6:24, which says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.”
We have a great choir in the church. They sing very nice worship songs. On this Sunday when they started the last worship song, it was a different atmosphere. The Holy Spirit was moving. All the people joined the choir and were singing with them. They were clapping and dancing.
The song was:
Who loved Him,
They drink happily the cup of martyrdom,
They are never afraid of any difficulty,
They took persecution on their body.
The choir and people were repeating these lines again and again. It seems that the Spirit of the saints was moving in the church.
After the song, we went outside the church building. One of the church members brought rice for the congregation as thanksgiving to the Lord. Saba said, “Come, we will eat rice.” Saba brought some rice on a plate and gave me one bite with her hand. As I took the bite, the bomb exploded, and my sister’s red dress became even redder.
Saba was engaged and would be getting married soon. That moment, my sister went with her real groom, Jesus.
In our culture, weddings include the color red, rice, music and songs as well as fireworks. Saba went to church wearing a red dress that morning. There were songs and music, rice and the great firework (the bomb blast). My sister, Saba, went to her real home with her groom, Jesus, that day. I am happy that my sister was ready to go with Jesus.
Come back to the Persecution Blog tomorrow to read the story of another of the All Saints Church martyrs, Khalid, as told to VOM by his widow. VOM provides help and support to the families of martyrs through the Families of Martyrs Fund. We invite you to make a gift online to support those who have lost a family member because of their witness for Christ.
Grief, Rage after Pakistan Church Suicide Bombing
Members of a Taliban offshoot attacked a historic church in Peshawar last Sunday, killing more than 80 and injuring more than 150. The two suicide bombers detonated their vests inside the All Saints Church around 11:45 a.m., just as 500 worshippers were sharing a meal on the grounds of the church.
The attackers had opened fire on security guards at the church’s main gates before setting of their vests packed with 26 pounds of the explosives. The blast heavily damaged the church and nearby buildings. It was the deadliest attack on Christians in Pakistan ever.