Date: December 20, 2016
By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
PUNJAB PROVINCE, PAKISTAN (ANS December 20, 2016) – Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother-of-five who was found guilty in 2010 of blasphemy for standing up for Jesus, and sentenced to death, faces another lonely Christmas in her “death row” cell in Punjab Province.
While many of us will be enjoying fellowship, food and presents on Christmas Day, she will spend it in solitary confinement in an 8-by-10-foot cell without windows, and will even have to cook her own Christmas meal because of fears that others may try to poison her food.
Asia Bibi will again be away from her husband, Ashiq Masih, and her children, and will wonder what the New Year has in store for her.
Asia’s nightmare back in June of 2009, when she was harvesting falsa berries with a group of mainly Muslim women farmhands in a field in Sheikhupura, a village in Punjab Province. She was asked at one point to fetch water from a nearby well; to which she complied, but stopped to take a drink from an old metal cup that she had found lying next to the well.
A neighbor of Asia, who had allegedly been involved in a running feud with her family about some property damage, saw her take a sip and angrily told her that it was forbidden for a Christian to drink water from the same utensil from which Muslims drank, and then some of the other workers told her that they considered her to be “unclean” because she was a Christian.
Some arguments ensued and Asia recounts that when they made derogatory statements about her Christian faith, she responded by telling them, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”
This incensed the Muslim women, and later some of the workers complained to a local Islamic cleric, claiming that she had insulted Muhammad and soon an angry mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. One report alleged that she was beaten all the way home, then gang-raped by Muslim in from the village, and her children were later sexually molested.
The police initiated an investigation about her remarks, resulting in her arrest under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. She subsequently was imprisoned for over a year upon the demands of the local Iman, before being formally charged under Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. Asia Bibi has now been incarcerated since June 2009.
Ms. Bibi denied that she had committed blasphemy and said that she had been accused by her neighbor to “settle an old score”. In November 2010, Muhammed Naveed Iqbal, a judge at the court of Sheikhupura, sentenced her to death by hanging. Additionally, a fine of the equivalent of $1,100 was imposed. With the verdict, she became the first woman condemned to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges.
In December 2010, a month after her conviction, a Muslim cleric announced a 500,000 Pakistani rupee award (the equivalent of $10,000) to anyone who would kill her. One survey reported that around 10 million Pakistanis had said that they would be willing to personally kill Asia out of either religious conviction or for the reward. Many others have gathered in the streets of several town and cities chanting “Kill her, kill her.”
Asia’s family has received threats and were forced to go into hiding. Ashiq, her husband, stated that he was afraid to let their children go outside. He also expressed concern about how his wife would be kept safe should she be released, saying, “No one will let her live. The mullahs are saying they will kill her when she comes out.” Her family declined to leave the country while she remained in prison, but Italy, France, and Spain all offered to grant her and her family asylum in the event of her release.
Two prominent Pakistani leaders, Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet, were both murdered for supporting Asia Bibi.
So this Christmas, would join with me in praying for Asia Bibi and her family, and also let your local politician know of her plight, so he or she can take action.
We at ANS pledge to continue to bring you vital updates on this travesty of a case, and also of the many other Christians who, like Asia Bibi, will have a lonely Christmas, particularly in the refugee camps of the Middle East, or in the prisons in Iran.
Yesterday (December 19th) I celebrated my 76th birthday, and although some have urged me to retire, I feel that God still wants me to continue with our news service. We are all volunteers, meaning we don’t receive a regular salary, and consequently we depend on friends like you to support us as you are able.
If you value our journalism, would you consider a generous end-of-the year donation so that we can continue our work for the Kingdom? Your gift will make a tremendous difference in what we are able to do.
Again, please pray for Asia Bibi and her family, and also for all of our many Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering untold violence for following Jesus Christ. I also thank you in advance for your donation, which is so appreciate by our ANS team, and will allow us to carry on bringing you their stories.
Photo captions: 1) Asia Bibi. 2) Muslims who want Asia Bibi to hang. 3) Asia’s husband and two daughters with Shahbaz Bhatti, who was later killed for his support Ms. Bibi. 4) Dan Wooding pictured with his wife, Norma.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 76, is an award-winning journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder of the ASSIST News Service (ANS) and he hosts a weekly radio show and two TV shows, all based in in Southern California. Dan also is the author of some 45 books.