Since the acquittal of blasphemy charges and a death sentence for Christian woman Asia Bibi, media reports have distributed much—and often conflicting—information regarding her whereabouts and the complications surrounding her and her family’s plight to leave Pakistan. Here, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
Where is Asia Bibi now?
Asia’s location is being held from the public for her own safety. We don’t know if she has been reunited with her family yet. Reportedly, she left the women’s prison in a plane and is now in protective custody. An order for her release arrived Wednesday at the jail in the central city of Multan where she was held, a prison official told AFP. Asia was flown to the airport near Islamabad but was in protective custody because of threats on her life, Last week, Pakistan’s foreign office refuted rumors that she had left Pakistan, vehemently stressing that she is still in the country. And images on social media purporting to show her leaving Pakistan, including one meeting with Pope Francis (it was actually her daughter), have been deemed as “fake” and “dangerous.”
“People can even be killed because of such fake postings,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said, reinforcing the volatile situation.
How is Asia doing?
Reportedly, Asia’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Malooq, was filmed speaking at a church in the Netherlands. He said that he’d last met with Bibi in late October before the decision was announced.
“I was amazed when I met her, she was in a wonderful mood, very happy, [with] no depression,” Mulook reportedly says in the video. He added that Asia had shared with him a dream she’d had two days earlier, in which the doors of the prison opened for her to leave.
“From my dream, I’m very, very certain that my will is going to be accepted and I’m going to be freed,” Asia reportedly told Malooq. “I have such faith in God that I have a strong feeling that nobody can hurt me.”
Mulook said he’s never seen “such a strong woman in my life, nor have I read about it in a book story: She’s been behind bars for nine years, leaving behind two daughters, and she’s still so strong. I would have been broken in six months.”
Malooq flew to the Netherlands on Nov. 3 and was offered asylum, after which the Dutch embassy in Pakistan received threats and had to close down its operations.
When will Asia leave Pakistan?
It’s unclear if Asia is allowed to travel outside Pakistan. The man who filed the official complaint against Asia in 2009, Qari Muhammad Salaam, has now filed a review petition and requested that until the review takes place (within 30 days) her name should be added to the exit control list, which includes the names of people who are not allowed to travel outside of the country.
However, the Pakistani government denies that Asia’s name has been added to this list and also said it doesn’t intend to do so.
What happens to the review petition?
The Pakistani government has made it clear it has nothing to do with the petition but in an agreement they struck with the TLP to end the violent protests that paralyzed the country the government said they would not oppose the petition for both the travel ban and the verdict review.
A tweet from the official government’s Twitter account cited: “That’s something between the petitioner and the Supreme Court.” This means that a judicial review committee will, in fact, review the Supreme Court decision; it is possible that pressure exerted by extremists could lead to a reversal of the verdict.
What else did the government agree to?
They also agreed to release anyone detained in connection with the protests and to take legal action on deaths that may have occurred. The agreement was signed on Friday, Nov. 2, by Noor-ul-Haq Qadri, Pakistan’s religious affairs minister, and Raja Basharat, Punjab’s minister for law, on behalf of the government.
How have other world leaders responded to the potential for an overturn of the verdict?
More than 230 Parliamentarians globally have petitioned Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan not to give in to pressure for a review of Asia’s acquittal, saying they are “aware that a review could take years, leaving Asia incarcerated for that time or vulnerable to mob violence if released.” They also questioned “whether political interests will prevail” and pointed out that “nations will be less likely to invest in Pakistan if the rule of law is undermined.”
Who is so against Asia’s release and why?
Protests and sit-ins in Pakistan’s major cities were led by a political party called the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which stands for “Here-I-Am Movement Pakistan.” The TLP is a rising Islamic political party that espouses and defends Islamic ideology. The movement is known for organizing widespread, often nationwide, street protests in opposition to any changes to the blasphemy law.
The TLP was founded by Islamic preacher Khadim Hussein Rizvi after the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, a bodyguard who became a hero for many extremist Muslims after he killed the governor he was supposed to protect. This governor, Salmeen Taseer, was one of the few men in power who stood up to defend Asia Bibi.
Considering this background, it’s no surprise that the TLP has tried to shut down the country and is now petitioning to reverse the verdict. They are acting on threats made even before the Supreme Court’s decision. In a press conference aired on YouTube, they also warned the presiding Supreme Court judges would “meet a horrible end” if they were to free Asia. After her acquittal, the TLP also called for the judges’ deaths.
Have any countries offered Asia and her family asylum?
Several countries have offered asylum. Reportedly, the president of the European Parliament telephoned Prime Minister Khan, specifically to discuss Asia Bibi. The UK, meanwhile, was reported to have refused the request for asylum of Asia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, out of fear of ensuing civil unrest. The UK has the largest Pakistani community in the European Union, with over a million members, a majority of whom are Muslims.
Some 70 UK parliamentarians responded by writing British Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to offer asylum to Asia and her family. Canada is reportedly in discussions to grant her asylum. Italy is also said to be “open.” Others, such as Scotland church leaders and even a U.S. senator, have also urged their countries to provide asylum for Asia and her family.
What is the current state of Pakistan and how are Pakistani Christians feeling right now?
World Watch Monitor reports that although a “tense calm” has prevailed in Pakistan, Christians in Pakistan are apprehensive that the eventual upshot could be a more discriminatory attitude towards Christians in general.
Minority rights activist Romana Bashir told World Watch Monitor that “Christians have a sense of fear that after Asia’s acquittal they might suffer.”
How should we pray?
- Pray for the safety of Asia, her family and the people around her. Pray that she and her family can leave the country soon.
- Pray that if a review takes place, the verdict will not be overturned.
- Pray for Asia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, and five children, that they will be safe and will soon be reunited as a family again. Pray that they will continue to feel God’s arms of protection around them.
- Pray for the judges, for their safety as well.
- Pray that protests will not erupt again and that God will give the government wisdom and courage in dealing with the TLP and other extremists.
- Pray especially for Pakistani Christians, who remain on high alert and fear that daily discrimination will intensify for them in their workplaces, communities and schools their children attend.
- Pray that Asia’s persecutors will encounter the one true God and like Saul, the scales will fall from their eyes to see the Jesus they persecute.