Security Increased for Asia Bibi Following Execution of Islamist Assassin in Pakistan

 

Asia Bibi

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (Matthew 5:11)

Intelligence reports indicate a conspiracy to kill her in prison.

LAHORE, Pakistan (Morning Star News) – Fears are growing over the security of the first Christian woman in Pakistan sentenced to death for “blasphemy” following the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated her biggest advocate.

Qadri was executed by hanging on Feb. 29 for the Jan. 4, 2011 assassination of Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer, who had criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and advocated for the release of Aasiya Noreen, widely known as Asia Bibi. She has been on death row since she was convicted in 2010 of blaspheming during an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water.

‎A senior Punjab government official confided to Morning Star News that Noreen’s security had been beefed up following intelligence reports that Islamist groups are conspiring to get her killed inside prison to avenge the hanging of Qadri. Taseer had called the country’s controversial blasphemy statute “a black law” and demanded freedom for the Christian mother of two children and stepmother to three others.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to media, the senior government source said that there was already a bounty on Noreen’s head of approximately 50 million rupees (US$$471,000), and that now that Islamist groups were calling for her swift execution, the government was exercising extreme caution to protect her.

“The government is doing its best to keep Noreen safe,” the official said. “Only her husband is allowed to meet her in jail, and she has been told to cook her own food to prevent any attempt at poisoning her meals. All guards deployed for her security have been carefully vetted by intelligence agencies and other security outfits to ensure that they are not extremists in their belief.”

He added that the government would not succumb to Islamists’ pressure at any cost.

“Mumtaz Qadri’s hanging is a message to all those who take the law into their own hands in the name of religion,” the official said.

Islamic extremists feted Qadri, showered with rose petals at his trial, as a hero and martyr, and his funeral last week brought up to 150,000 people into the streets of Rawalpindi, many chanting for Noreen to be hanged.

On Thursday (March 3), the chief cleric of Islamabad’s ultra-extremist Lal Masjid, Maulana Abdul Aziz, called on the government to execute “the blasphemer Asia Bibi as soon as possible and not bow to international pressure.”

Islamist pressure is growing every day, said a Christian activist who requested anonymity.

“The other day gold traders in Lahore announced that they would weigh Qadri’s father in gold on March 27, the day the assassin’s 40-day mourning completes, to acknowledge his service to Islam and its prophet,” the activist said. “I believe that the underlying message for Islamist youth is that their families will be taken care of properly if they kill any alleged blasphemer, particularly Noreen.

Much prayer is needed for Noreen and other victims of the blasphemy law, he said.

“You never know, but the increasing pressure on the government could also have an effect on the hearing of her appeal in the Supreme Court,” he added.

Noreen’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, said she is being held in isolation and under strict security.

“But calls for her speedy execution have increased the risk to her life manifold,” he said.

Pakistan has yet to execute anyone convicted of blasphemy, but anyone charged or accused of insulting Islam risks a violent death at the hands of vigilantes. A Christian laborer and his wife were thrown into the furnace of a brick kiln in 2014 after being wrongly accused of throwing pages of the Quran into the garbage.

Critics, including European governments, assert the blasphemy laws are misused, with hundreds languishing in jails under false charges that could see them face fines, life imprisonment or death by hanging.

Concerns for Noreen’s safety come as a Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber on Monday (March 7) detonated explosives in a courthouse in Charsadda, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, killing at least 17 people, including policemen and a woman. The Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility, saying in a statement that the attack was carried out to “avenge” the execution of Qadri.

Most of those killed were from the Barelvi movement within Islam, a relatively moderate group said to oppose violence, though Qadri’s execution had also upset Barelvis. No Christians were reported to have died in the attack.

Surge in Blasphemy Cases

An alliance of hundreds of lawyers is behind a rise in prosecutions of blasphemy cases in Punjab, according to a recent report.

The alliance, Tehreek-e-Khatam-e-Nabuvat (Movement for the Finality of the Prophethood), offers free legal advice to complainants and has packed courtrooms with representatives, a tactic critics say is designed to help it gain convictions.

The stated mission of the Khatam-e-Nubuwwat lawyers’ forum and its leader, Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, is uncompromising: to use its expertise and influence to ensure that anyone insulting Islam or its prophet, Muhammad, is charged, tried and executed.

‎Since Khatam-e-Nubuwwat was founded 15 years ago, the number of criminal blasphemy cases filed in Punjab, the group’s home base and Pakistan’s most populous province, tripled to 336 by 2014, according to police figures. It fell to 210 in 2015 as stricter provincial rules were applied, but critics said the number was still too high.

The same group prosecuted Noreen and later defended Qadri during his trial. The Islamist lawyers are now rallying religious groups to call for Noreen’s execution.

Napolean Qayyum, a Christian rights activist, told Morning Star News that he wouldn’t be surprised if the forum’s lawyers storm the Supreme Court during the hearing of Noreen’s appeal against her death sentence.

“Fear and intimidation is the extremists’ greatest weapon, and they might use such tactics to intimidate the judges and pressure them into upholding Noreen’s execution,” he said, adding that fears for Noreen’s security inside the prison were well founded as thousands of Qadri’s supporters are baying for her blood to “avenge” their hero’s death.

“We just hope that the government and the court do not cower under Islamists’ pressure,” he said. “Noreen has been suffering in jail for nearly six years; it’s about time that she is judged fairly by the court. We urge the government to take notice of the provocative announcements being made by religious groups. Inciting people to resort to violence is a criminal offense, and the government must not spare religious leaders who are encouraging Muslim youths to follow in Qadri’s footsteps and kill ‘blasphemers.’”

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (Matthew 5:11)

Her theology is suspect if she thinks Muhammad can do anything or is still alive but who is to deny she is a real believer?-JK

“She is a woman who, inundated by the grace of God, gives her blessing to her own story, a story which human reason can only see as wrong, twisted and unfortunate.”

PAKISTAN (ASSIST News Service) – For Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, this Christmas was shrouded in mercy.

A story by Paolo Affatato for La Stampa, an Italian newspaper published in Turin, reported that this was the seventh Christmas she spent behind bars, in the women’s prison in Multan. That’s a town in the province of Punjab, where Asia awaits the outcome of a re-examination of her blasphemy conviction.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court, the third and final stage in the trial, has accepted Asia’s petition to appeal against her death sentence. The wait is now on for a hearing date to be set so that he final verdict can be issued.

For this 50-year-old mother of five, Christmas in the Year of Mercy, is a celebration of forgiveness.

Despite her suffering and isolation and her awareness of the immense injustice she is experiencing, La Stampa said Asia is at peace.

La Stampa said, “She is a woman who, inundated by the grace of God, gives her blessing to her own story, a story which human reason can only see as wrong, twisted and unfortunate.”

Trusting in God’s Providence, Asia told members of her family who went to the prison to visit her on the morning of Christmas Eve, “Christmas is a celebration of God’s mercy. I forgive my persecutors, those who have made false accusations against me, and I await their forgiveness.”

These words, according to La Stampa, had a deep impact on Asia’s husband Ashiq Masih, her children and Joseph Nadeem, the family’s legal advisor and director of Lahore’s Renaissance Education Foundation.

The moment when they exchanged wishes was very moving.

Asia was happy, saying “Jesus has made this day a happy one for me and has listened to my prayers. I am moved and full of joy at being able to meet my family today and celebrate Christmas with you.”

Asia also recalled the moment that changed her life.

La Stampa reported she said, “Today also marks the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. May peace be with him on this day. I truly cannot imagine disrespecting him. But although I have been in prison for seven years, I do not hate those who have harmed me.”

She added, “I pray that the Prophet Mohammed will bestow wisdom on his followers so that peace can go on being built around the world. I pray that Jesus Christ will grant peace to the whole world.”

Family of Asia Bibi

Family of Asia Bibi

Asia’s husband, Ashiq, said that after the visit, his wife sent a request out to everyone following her story, to continue to pray for a positive outcome in the Supreme Court trial.

“May God the Almighty grant me freedom so that I can celebrate next Christmas with you, in peace and freedom,” she said.

Asia Bibi’s Christmas is an example of the way Christians are celebrating Christmas in Pakistan. They are “bearers of a message of harmony and hope,” said Khalil Tahir Sindhu.

He is a Catholic lawyer who has worked on the Asia Bibi case, as well as many other blasphemy cases against Christians. He is now minister for minorities and human rights in the provincial government of Punjab.

In order to avoid “new Asia Bibi” cases and eradicate the root cause of anti-Christian discrimination in Pakistan, La Stampa said Sindhu is using his political initiative to protect the rights of minorities.

As a result, the Punjab province has set up district committees for the promotion of religious harmony and has implemented a law that requires five percent of government jobs to be allocated to minorities.

Sindhu’s efforts were backed by Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain, who at a meeting with Christian bishops stressed the important role religious minorities play in terms of the country’s “progress, defense, security and social stability.”

“Pakistan,” Hussain added, “will guarantee the well being and protection of our Christian brothers using all means possible,” recalling certain provisions that have already been adopted by the Pakistani government.

La Stampa said Sajjad Masih Gill hopes that these words will translate into actions. Gill is another Christian who was sentenced to life imprisonment for alleged blasphemy and presented his appeal to Lahore’s high court in recent days.

Pakistan is witnessing a disturbing trend in abuse of the blasphemy law that has ruined the lives of people such as Asia Bibi, Sajjad Masih Gill and many others: 1,400 such cases were reported in 2014, more than in any other year.

In 2014, La Stampa said, according to information from Pakistan’s human rights commission, the Pakistani courts sentenced three people to death, six people to life in prison and three more people to two years in prison for blasphemy.

Nisar Shar, a lawyer and spokesman for the Karachi bar association, said “it has become dangerous for lawyers to defend clients accused of blasphemy.”

Saiful Malook, Asia Bibi’s Muslim lawyer, is aware of these risks but has decided nevertheless to follow the case through until the final Supreme Court hearing, upon which Asia Bibi’s fate hangs.

By Jeremy Reynalds, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

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