IMAGE: CNS photo/Simon Caldwell
By Simon Caldwell
CHESTER, England (CNS) — The
first Catholic woman to be condemned to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws
will discover her fate later this month, her family told Catholic News Service.
Asia Bibi, who has been held in
solitary confinement since November 2010, when she was sentenced to hang for
insulting Muhammad, the founder of Islam, will learn the outcome of her
appeal to the Pakistan Supreme Court later in October, her husband, Ashiq
Masih, told CNS Oct. 5.
If Bibi is released, he
said, she and her family will immediately seek sanctuary in one of several
countries that have offered them exile, because it was too dangerous for them to
remain in Pakistan.
Ashiq, a builder from
Sheikhupura, Pakistan, was in England with his and Bibi’s youngest daughter,
Eisham Ashiq, as guests of Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity
helping persecuted Christians.
They said when they visited Bibi
in Multan Prison Oct. 1 that she was in good health, contrary to speculation that she was developing dementia.
During the interview at St
Columba’s Church, Ashiq said Bibi was praying constantly and that she deeply
believed she would win her freedom.
“She is psychologically,
physically and spiritually strong,” said Ashiq. “Having a very strong
faith, she is ready and willing to die for Christ. She will never convert to
“She also wanted to deliver
a message to the international community that they must remember her in their
prayers. These prayers will open the door of the prison, and she will be
released very soon,” he said.
“She is spending her life
praying with a very strong faith and is reading the Bible every day. She feels
when she is praying, Jesus is encouraging and supporting her,” he
continued, adding that she also received Communion in jail Oct. 1.
In June 2009 Bibi, who worked as
a farmhand, was accused of blasphemy against Islam after Muslim women objected
to her drinking from a common water supply because she is a Christian.
Eisham told CNS that, as a 9-year-old girl, she
witnessed her mother being severely beaten by a Muslim
mob in the aftermath of the accusation.
“I believe in God and I
believe she will be released, but she can’t live in Pakistan once she has been
released — simple as that,” she said.
Bibi was rescued by police, only
to be sentenced to death for violating Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code,
which makes insulting Muhammad a capital offense.
No one has been executed under
the law so far, but Christians who are falsely accused often are lynched or
spend many years in prison.
Bibi’s final appeal will be
heard by a special three-judge bench. The hearing represents her last chance
at avoiding a death sentence for blasphemy. If the court upholds the execution
order, the only option open to her lawyers will be a direct appeal for clemency
to President Imran Khan.
Her case has divided Pakistan,
with millions of Islamic militants reportedly willing to kill her to obtain a
reward of 500,000 rupees offered by a Muslim cleric for her murder; some
moderate Muslims have called for her release.
Among those who called for her
release was the governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated in
January 2011 after he said he would fight for her release.
Two months later, Minority
Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was gunned down after he said he
would seek the reform of the blasphemy laws to stop them being abused to persecute
Now-retired Pope Benedict XVI is
among those to have publicly called for Bibi’s release and, in February, Pope
Francis received Ashiq and Eisham at the Vatican, while the Coliseum was bathed
in red light to highlight the suffering of contemporary martyrs.
Ashiq said: “The pope
encouraged us and said to us, ‘Don’t led your mind be disturbed’ and said ‘Pass on
my encouragement to Asia Bibi and bless her as well.’ He said he is praying for
her and that he believed she would be freed very soon.
“By meeting him, our faith
was boosted,” he said. “We were already believing and have a strong
faith, but listening to him really encouraged us.”
“Remember us in your
prayers and support us as much as you can so that Asia Bibi can be released
very soon,” Ashiq said. “When she is free, she will able to answer
questions in person.”
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