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Asia Bibi death sentence appeal lights up social media: Christians call for prayer while Muslims call for riots

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Hang Asia riot image from 2016

After an annoucement that Asia Bibi's Pakistan's most famous blasphemy law victim would have her appeal heard on Monday, Pakistani Christians began praying with hope that Asia Bibi will be released and granted asylum in a western country.  This is despite the concerns they have about rioting and a Muslim backlash a common for of suffering they have endured in the past. They are watching and praying for a peaceful resolution 

Meanwhile Christian NGO's are demanding that the Government of Pakistan must provide adequate protection for Asia Bibi, her family and Christian communities country-wide. They fear the widespread hatred she faces from Muslims in Pakistan will lead to severe rioting, attempts to kill her and persecute other Christians, all of which has occured previously (click here).  


Brother Leighton who has been in Pakistan since the beginnning of the month has been leading prayers and fasts for Asia.  Image taken yesterday.

BPCA Outreach Officer Leighton Medley, who is in Pakistan on his 6 monthly mission has told us that many churches in Lahore, particularly in Bahar Colony, have declared a day of fasting and prayer as Christian communities seek justice for Asia Bibi. He tells us that many were praying throughout the churches, asking for the final release of this innocent woman and the end of this sordid chapter in Pakistan’s history. He described the heightened emotion in the country, saying:

“All around Pakistan and even many parts of the world, the sense of anticipation of tomorrow’s events regarding Asia Bibi’s final appeal hearing are now at fever pitch. There is a sense here in Pakistan that once again, battle lines are being drawn. The battle between those who support hatred and intolerance and those who fight for peace and justice.

“There is no doubt, that as they enter that courtroom tomorrow, you will be able to cut the atmosphere with a knife. There will be protests on both sides and you can bet there will be trouble ahead."
 

Leighton spends time encouraging Christians to respond peacefully , and take to take in acting in a peaceful way, proclaiming non-violence the way that Jesus Christ did. He continued:

"We must have faith that God can intervene in this situation and this mountain will be removed, it is very much like going into the lion’s den.

"It truly is D-Day for Asia, this is the final countdown and we will soon know whether the extremists win or lose. And whether there will be peace and justice in Pakistan or just more hatred, prejudice and intolerance which sadly has come to typify Pakistan today.”


Meanwhile Muslims in a WhatsApp group named “Lahore Group” punctuated by a Pakistani flag and crossing swords are calling for riots following the appeal to make sure that Asia Bibi is punished for blasphemy.

A summary of the What’s App Message forwarded to us reads: 

“Apparently a Muslim man is provoking other Muslim fellows to spread this message as much as they can on social media that Asia Bibi should be punished for committing Blasphemy and that the Muslim community has to play their role in doing this. They are a creating an alert for after tomorrow's hearing.” 

A video of a Muslim man watching the red-backed news story with Urdu lettering about Asia Bibi's appeal to the Supreme Court and his response to the occasion is most telling as with widened eyes he sincerely laments:

"Imran Khan may want to forgive Asia Bibi for blasphemy, but she should never be forgiven! Please share this news with everyone you know."  


Pak-Christians carry the weight of their vulnerability, but this leaves those resident Muslims who may have concern about the blasphemy laws less likely to speak up for the human right concerns that have particularly precipitated from Asia Bibi’s case, especially when even high ranking officials do not appear to be safe from the wrath of Islamists.

Pakistani politicians who have attempted to speak up for Asia Bibi in the past have done so at great personal risk and this case has lead to the assasination of some brave Pakistani patriots including former Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and former Governor for Punjab Salman Taseer.

Riots broke out when assassin Mumtaz Qadri who killed Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab was executed for murder
  (click here).   Most Muslims in Pakistan wanted him released and named a saint for killing a blasphemer a viewpoint that was endorsed by over 100,000 Muslims in the UK who signed a petition calling for him to be named a saint after his death (click here).

Pakistani politicians have had to walk gingerly with regards to commenting on both her case and on blasphemy laws. Earlier this year a amendment to an oath of office for Muslims lead to a nationwide shutdown and riots. (click here)
 
BPCA Outreach Officer Leighton Medley was also in Pakistan when the nation came to a standstill earlier this year. To read more about that experience (click here)



In this “Lahore Group” a Muslim man provokes other Muslims to spread the message on social media and to "punish Asia Bibi". This begs the question are there groups in other cities preparing to riot? We at BPCA hope the government is taking measure to prevent the violence that is being planned in full view and have penned a letter of appeal to officials that we have posted as an appendix to this article. This letter was a goodwill appeal for protection of Christian communities, clemency for Asia Bibi, and expression of our desire for peace.  

Asia Bibi has been in prison longer than anyone else convicted of blasphemy and if she loses her 8th October appeal she could be the first person executed by the State unless Prime Minister Imran Khan gives her clemency. 

This mother of five has had suffered isolation, and considerable emotional distress during that time. he idea that she has not been punished enough adequately is appalling and using an act of mercy to promote violence must be considerable distressing for anyone with even one ounce of compassion. Riots are opportunistic excuse to harm others who has nothing to do with the original incident and procure guilt by association such as when a violent mob threatened to set a Christian community alight causing thousand families to flee (click here)

Wilson Chowdhry in response to the social media threats said:

"These posted threats are extremely alarming as previous riots have brought the entire country to a standstill. These calls for violence should not be ignored by the government. They must take all measures to prevent any harm to her in the course of this appeal and following.

"It is widely known that those incensed by those even accused of blasphemy vent their angry on vulnerable Christian communities. We remember the victims of Gorja 2009 nor the other churches, families and other gated communities that have born the brunt of more recent attacks." 

Mr Chowdhry continued:

“Asylum must be automatic and immediate safe haven for this family and western nations need to be holding Pakistan to account for how or whether they in fact protect minority groups. 

“The Christian community hopes and prays that the judges in this case do not postpone this matter any further. Delay frustrates the mechanism and places Asia in more danger while she is left in extremely draconian brutal conditions with continued mental trauma.

“The longer she is in Pakistan the longer she is a trigger for unwarranted violence by extremists.”

Mr Chowdhry has spent the last four days meeting the family of Asia Bibi whilst they tour the UK with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. Yesterday he delivered £1500 to Ashiq Masih to pay for the cost of his Legal Counsel. The family have asked for a further £1500 to help with the burgeoning costs of legal cover. If you would like to help please donate by clicking (here)

MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel of Germany, who was recently in Pakistan with a Delegation of the European Parliament’s ECR Group felt assured that there will be a positive outcome for Asia Bibi. He participated in discussions with the Islamabad High Court and came away with a good impression of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The delegation tried to press Asia Bibi's case everywhere they went and MEP Henkel expressed hope that his efforts were well received. He anticipated in an email correspondence to BPCA, the following:

"I am sure that our intervention helped as little or as much all the other protests from all over the world. Meanwhile, we got also a good impression about the new PM...

"I hope that the scandalous human rights abuses against members of other religions will be stopped. Let’s... continue to fight such gross violations of human rights in Pakistan and elsewhere!"

Keri-Lynn Gibbs, BPCA Communications Officer asked Christians in North America despite the time change to remember Asia Bibi in prayer, saying:

"Please pray for the peaceful release of Asia Bibi, for the repeal of the death sentence and blasphemy conviction against her and the safety of Pakistani Christians over the course of this week. As you go to sleep tonight the day will be starting there. When you wake in the morning the decision could already be made. Don't let this historic moment pass by without raising your voice to God on their behalf."

Meanwhile, other voices in Canada from Pakistani origin appeal for a reform and an end to blasphemy legislation, like Muslim Human Rights Activist and Reformer, Reheel Raza of Muslims Facing Tomorrow and Pak-Canadian journalist Tariq Fatah, who espouse a more tolerant version of Islam stand against radical Islamists and are sometimes shockingly marginalized by other western journalists for sharing their personal experience and eyewitness accounts of dangerous historic shifts in the attitudes toward religious minorities in Pakistan.

Such advocates for justice offer a little comfort to Pakistani Christians that someone this side of heaven has at least noticed their concerns and cares about their welfare.

Earlier this year Tarek Fatah made his support for Asia Bibi clear on his Twitter Feed at 11:44 PM - 5 Jul 2018, saying:

#FreeAsiaBibi - Pakistani Christian woman has been in prison for over nine years facing the death penalty on charges of #blasphemy. Her crime? She drank water from a cup reserved for Muslims only as Christians are considered unclean in Pakistan @FreeAsiaBiBi

Raheel Raza wrote an September 2018 article a month ago where she spoke against Islamist calls for violence against proponents of free speech and clearly stated in her title:

"Blasphemy Law Practiced In Pakistan Is Evil, Obsolete and A Way of Victimizing Its Minority Communities" (click here)

We are hoping along with you for a good result from the appeal to day.
 Please sign our petition for clemency (here)

BPCA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry was in transit from appeal meetings for Asian Bibi in the Northern UK appeal for Asia Bibi when we received word of some of these emboldened posts and asked our BCPA Commmunications Officer in Canada to pen an appeal to the officials for protection for Christian communities and clemency for Asia Bibi. The correspondence was as follows:

Rt. Honorable Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan
President of Pakistan Arif Alvi
Mr Syed Ibne Abbas, Pakistani High Commissioner (UK)
Tariq Azim Khan, Pakistani High Commissioner (Canada)

Dear Right Honorable Imran Khan, President Arif Alvi and Esteemed High Commissioners,

We at the British Pakistani Christian Association want you to know that we are praying for you, the Supreme Court Justices and all Pakistani civil authorities on this historic day. It is our ardent hope that this matter will be resolved peacefully, and that Asia Bibi will be freed and given asylum without delay.

The attached WhatsApp Message has been brought to our attention and we would appreciate you investigating the visible phone numbers and those individuals attached to them.

They are calling for a violent response following Asia Bibi's appeal on 8 October and we kindly ask that the communication of this group be addressed and to investigate any other geographical groups outside of Lahore calling for riots. Very likely this is not the only group like this. In addition there are various videos being posted on YouTube calling on extremist groups to act out. These are common ordinary Pakistani people making these posts and their low regard for Christians in their community is duly noted.

We respectfully ask that your efforts to protect Pak-Christian communities in the course of this appeal be proactive and immediate. We expect that the protection of innocent civilians amongst your religious minorities will be of paramount concern especially at this time.

The prophet Isaiah expressed in ancient times as recorded in the book of Isaiah Chapter 58, that it is not enough for rulers to only be religious, but they must be compassionate with the oppressed or their religious efforts are not recognized by the Almighty. With this compassion there is a blessing from the Holy Bible, and it is as follows:

'The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.'

We are hoping our hearts will not be broken tomorrow but regardless we wanted to speak out this promise for a better world and our genuine hope for peace.

Kind Regards,

Keri-Lynn Gibbs
BPCA Communications Officer
cc: Wilson Chowdhry, British Pakistani Christian Association
cc: Perry John Calderwood, Canadian High Commissioner in Pakistan

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