For nearly four years, Christians around the world have been praying for Asia Noreen, also known as Asia Bibi. As the first woman ever to be given the death penalty under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, she highlights the abuse of human rights and dignity in Pakistan’s legal system.
For her safety, a ministry partner in Pakistan have been able to give out very little information about her situation; her family has also been forced into hiding for their security. It can only be confirmed that she is in confinement with restricted outside contact. Any lawyers or activists who touch the case risk placing her, her family and even their own lives in greater danger.
A co-worker in the country testifies that the rest of the world can only imagine Asia’s loneliness when the sound of the call to prayer fills the air, when she wonders if she will ever again enjoy Christian fellowship or the companionship of her family, when she feels what it is like to be one of the handful of Christians in a Pakistani prison and is labelled as “the woman who blasphemed.”
Although many are sympathetic to her cause, the government has already lost two of its finest leaders for their support of her cause – Salman Taseer, the Governor of the Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minorities Minister. Pakistan’s unjust law comes from an anti-blasphemy law introduced by the British in 1927 which over the years has become an increasingly potent weapon against Christians and other minority groups in this Islamic Republic.
Asia’s case is a classic example of how the blasphemy law has been misused. When communities tire of the Christians in their midst, are cautioned about the dangers of living near “infidels” or simply desire land belonging to a minority, it takes little more than a shout and a false accusation for the police to arrest the alleged blasphemer and open an official case against them. Once the case is registered, arrest is almost inevitable. The allegation against Asia followed months of emotional torture and taunting by local Muslims. Local sources say that Asia was denied water from the local well and refused permission to collect grain during harvest. It was the final attack on her faith that drove her to question Islam and defend her own beliefs.
A ministry parter is seeking out family and friends of Asia to learn how best to help her discovered that Christians in her local community and across the country continue to suffer. “Pray wherever you are,” pleaded one man, “but don’t ask us questions about that case.” A ministry partner standing on an almost deserted village street, observed, “I saw a little boy playing with a cycle tire which he rolled and ran behind. I dared not ask him anything about Asia, after I knew what risks were attached. Shortly after, an angry man from the village approached my teammate and asked us if we needed a place to eat, before we left. The indication was clear–they wanted us to leave.”
Asia is more than a shadowy figure behind iron bars. She is a real woman: a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter and a friend. She is connected to a real community. Christians in Pakistan say they have been humbled by efforts of the global church to keep on praying and stay involved with supporting the families of those who have suffered because of Asia’s case.
“Asia knows that the world is trying, she knows that humanly speaking she is in a hopeless situation. But we know she has hope… in the One who has saved her soul-the One she spoke up for, before she was chained and taken away,” the field worker said. Despite her dire plight and the murders of two men for speaking out against the injustice of the blasphemy law, the fact that she is still alive is in itself an answer to prayer.
Though waves of rumours about Asia’s case frequently surface, there is no credible new information about her case. Since unverified information can endanger her, local teams in the field are cautious of spreading any unverified reports. Even people at the highest places of authority do not want to be quoted for their opinions on Asia Bibi. “Do you want me to be killed and my wife to witness it?” a police officer asked when approached.
Embedded in the context of a country torn by violence and terrorism, the story of Asia Bibi has come to represent the needs of Christians caught in conflict, in search of both justice and healing. Her story continues to show the local church that the global church will not forget to pray and believe for one woman named Asia, and millions of other Christians who fear her same fate.
Thank You, Father, that you have preserved the life of Asia Bibi and that You have strengthened her to be a courageous witness in prison. Thank You for her steadfast endurance as she rests in Christ. Help her to be assured of our prayers for her that she will be spiritually free, shedding the chains of fear, isolation and hopelessness as Paul and Silas experienced in Acts 16. We think of the many Christians in Pakistan who are in prison or living in fear, and we call on You to use Asia Bibi’s case to break the power of Satan to intimidate the Christians of Pakistan through these laws. In the name of Jesus who hears the prayers of His people and is faithful to answer, Amen.