SANTA ANA, Calif. (Dec. 6, 2010) – Open Doors USA is calling for prayers for imprisoned Pakistani Christian woman Asia Noreen (Bibi) after hard-line Islamic iman Maulana Yousef Qureshi declared late last week, according to Associated Press, that anyone who kills Noreen will be paid $6,000 if the government doesn’t put her to death
Noreen was convicted of blasphemy last month and was sentenced to death by hanging – the first woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. She already has served a year and a half in prison. Her appeal is scheduled to be heard by a higher court later this month. It is possible she could be pardoned but that would likely trigger a huge Islamic extremist backlash. According to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, it is a crime punishable by death to blaspheme the Quran or the prophet Muhammad. The law is often used by Muslims to settle personal grudges against Christians, as it was in the Noreen case.
Last Saturday Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Minorities Shabaz Bhatti condemned the announcement of the reward for killing Noreen and stated “every legal and constitutional means will be adopted” in her case.
Dr. Carl Moeller, President/CEO of Open Doors USA, says that Noreen’s case must not be swept under the rug and forgotten, but Christians “must pray and advocate” for this innocent woman.
“We continue to stand with Christians in Pakistan. We continue to help them face the incredible pressure – the almost unimaginable pressure – they are under every day; by spiritual means, by encouragement and through advocacy, speaking out on their behalf,” says Moeller.
There are reports the Noreen case has already triggered threats on Christian churches, schools and hospitals by Islamic extremists. Christian relief centers set up for victims of the devastating Pakistani floods this summer have also been threatened.
Moeller says while Christians worldwide need to continue to pray for the release of Noreen, the government of Pakistan needs to repeal the repressive law to prevent even more marginalization of Christians and other minorities in Pakistan.
“The larger problem is that the blasphemy law exists in the first place,” he said. “That a person like Asia – and many others through the years – can be put in prison for a year and a half without even telling her side of the story is a travesty of justice and basic human rights. Christians and the international community need to keep pressure on the Pakistani government to drop laws like this one and not cave in to the Muslim extremists.”
A General Assembly vote is scheduled this month on the “Combating Defamation of Religions” resolution at the United Nations. The resolution provides international legitimacy for legislation which restricts the freedom of speech and religion for Christians and other minorities in Muslim countries, including the blasphemy law in Pakistan. The resolution is sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Conference states (OIC). Open Doors has been lobbying countries to vote against the resolution and has collected more than 425,000 signatures through its “Free to Believe” worldwide campaign from people who urged a “no” vote on the resolution. In the U.N. Third Committee preliminary vote last month, the resolution passed by the narrowest of margins yet – just a dozen votes. This is down from a margin of 19 votes last year, demonstrating that support for the resolution is losing ground every year thanks to advocacy efforts.
Moeller and other Open Doors officials were scheduled to meet today with Ivan Simonovic, United Nations General-Secretary for Human Rights, to make a symbolic presentation of the “Free to Believe” petition.