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.