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Australians draw attention to plight of mother facing death sentence in Pakistan during peace rally. Asia Bibi's trial date set for 13th October 2016

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Dozens of Christians of Pakistan origin and their supporters converged outside the New South Walesd Parliament House in Sydney at 10:00am on Saturday 8th October 2016, calling for freedom of Pakistan's most famous blasphemy law victims.



Armed with posters and leaflets demonstrators set out to help free Asia Bibi a Christian mother of five who they believe is innocent of the blasphemy charge that led to her incarceration.

Protesters called for the Australian Government to intervene on behalf of Asia Bibi, who they say was falsely accused of denigrating the Islamic prophet Muhammed. They seek diplomatic engagement between the Australian Government and Pakistani Government to ensure that Asia has a fair trial and that her family. the judiciary and legal team representing her are fully protected from any violence from hard-line Muslims in Pakistan.

Demonstrators also demanded that the Australian Government ensures that the principle of 'one law for all' is maintained in their country. The preservation of the democratic nature of Australia as a nation and the condemnation of Islamic Sharia law for its imposition on the freedom and equality of adherents and non-Muslims, wherever Sharia is observed.



A letter with these aims was submitted to Parliamentarians based at Parliament House of New South Wales. The letter will also call for Australian Government to reconsider the $49 million dollars of aid given to Pakistan. With a desire that the aid be terminated unless Pakistan significantly improves its poor human rights record.

Local Councillor Naji Peter Najjar joined protestors at the event, so moved was he by the plight of Asia Bibi.  He has invited Wilson Chowdhry to meet with the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, Rt Hon David Clarke on Thursday 13th October, to discuss Asia Bibi's case and other persecution in Pakistan.


Cllr Naji Peter Najjar a Lebanese Christian (blue shirt) next to Wilson Chowdhry (blue blazer)


Shaheen Isaac a resident of Sydney for over 20 years, said:

"As an Australian tax-payer I am disappointed that their is little accountability required for funds sent to Pakistan,  Despite years of support the aid seems to have created an even worse quality of life for minorities in Pakistan. 50% of funds sent to Pakistan should be earmarked for use towards improving the human rights of Pakistani minorities."

Australian Justice of the Peace, Michael Andjelkovic, said:

"This case demonstrates the cruelty, unequality and divisiveness of Blasphemy Law under islamic sharia law towards non muslims and is something that we do not want in Australia."

During the protest Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, lead a delegation to the Pakistan Consulate in Sydney, where a petition calling for freedom for Asia Bibi was submitted. The electronic petition can still be signed by (clicking here)


Praying for freedom for Asia Bibi outside the Pakistani Consulate.

During the rally the group passed the location of the Sydney siege from December 2014.  In a symbolic gesture of solidarity for all those affected by extremism a one minutes silence was held in remembrance of those killed and injured and their mourning families.  A bunch of flowers was also laid before the entrance of Lindt Cafe where the siege took place.


A minutes silence was held for victims of the Sydney siege.

 
Flowers before entrance of Lindt Cafe.  L-R Michael Andjelkovick and Shaheen Isaac


A prayer was said by Wilson Chowdhry after the minutes silence.


On Thursday 7th October Pakistan's Supreme Court set Asia's appeal date for 13th of October - a last gasp chance for Asia to find freedom through judicial process. Failing that her only hope would to be the seeking of a presidential pardon through the Country's president Mr Mamnoon Hussain. The power wielded by extremists in the country would make such a process extremely unlikely. Already this year the Government of Pakistan dropped proposed reforms to their notorious blasphemy laws, after over 100,000 Muslims led by the same extremists called for their withdrawal during a sit-in protest outside Parliament Buildings in Islamabad. The cause of the protest was the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, murderer of former Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer under Pakistan's new terrorism act. The protesters hailed Mumtaz Qadri as a Muslim saint for killing a blasphemer a stance based on Mr Taseer's support for freedom of Asia and abrogation of the blasphemy laws. They also called for the death of Asia Bibi in exchange for Mr Qadri's life.


Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

"We thank God that a date has finally been set for this ailing mother's appeal. We ask people across the world to pray for her release and safe travel to a western nation with her family.  This family have suffered enough and deserve some time to recuperate away from the malice and hatred that has consumed Pakistan."

"Sadly even if set free she will never recover the lost years with her children. She has missed marriages, birthdays and Christmases and has not been able to provide the nurture and protection of a mother.  Her treatment by the courts and Government of Pakistan is a reminder to us all that sometimes those in positions to protect us fail miserably."

He added:

"Major donors such as the UK and the USA are starting to use aid as leverage for better human rights in recipient nations.  As a major donor to Pakistan ($47 million), Australia can have a significant role to play.

"Australia’s official policy involves tackling poverty by generating sustainable growth and employment, as well as focusing on education and health, all worthy goals. Some of the poorest Pakistani citizens are Christians, and unfortunately they are typically kept there by a combination of debt-slavery and direct and systematic religious oppression, frequently including systematic sex slavery and targeting of Christian girls and women for kidnap, rape, forced conversion and marriage.

Australia simply must use their aid budget to remove this social disparity."

Wilson Chowdhry will be meeting with, Senator Eric Abetz on the 11th October and MP Andrew Hastie 12th October at the Australian Parliament in Canberra. During his ten day trip he hopes to discuss a review of Australia's current risk profile for Pakistani Christians. He will be calling for a new Policy that confers Pak-Christian Asylum seekers with special status due to a high risk of persecution.

Asia Bibi is a Christian mum-of-five sentenced to death by hanging and currently on death row in a Pakistani prison. Her crime? She had been picking berries for paid work in the village of Itan Wali, Punjab, in June 2009. Then she offered water to a fellow human being after drinking at a rural well - without realizing followers of Christ were not allowed to relieve their thirst there, only Muslims. The harsh social norms of Pakistani culture means that Christians are 'untouchables' – the lowest. Many Muslims in the country believe, to put it crudely, that members of churches are akin to dogs. Christians are seen as a mat upon which you can wipe your feet.

Sounds harsh and unrealistic?
Asia Bibi's story is a perfect example of the above 'untouchable' claims. She suddenly found herself in a heated discussion with local Muslim women who made fun of Christianity on that fateful day when she fetched water. Asia, defending her beliefs, asked: “Jesus died on the cross for us, but what has Mohammed done for you?” This simple statement caused a frenzy amongst her Muslim co-workers. They instantly called her pro-Christian comments 'blasphemy', although she had every right to discuss her faith under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (of which Pakistan is a signatory).

The horrifying result was that Asia was brutally beaten and raped. Her two daughters, one with special needs, were also abused by the mob and some reports suggest sexual assault was involved. Her husband and five children are now in hiding while she waits to be executed. An appeal was refused in October 2014 and Asia is vulnerable to attacks inside the remote prison – even though a death sentence is still levied against her. In spite of all she faces, Asia has stayed true to her Christian faith.

Pakistan's Blasphemy law is an ever-present weapon of discrimination which looms over Christians in Pakistan. This is a law that we at the BPCA have constantly condemned because a significant reform, or abrogation, is desperately needed. As in the case of Asia Bibi, blasphemy charges are laid with flimsy evidence simply on the account of a Muslim witness against a non-Muslim (it is more complicated with Muslim-to-Muslim charges).
Some 50 per cent of blasphemy charges are made against Muslims in blasphemy cases – and the other 50 per cent levied against non-Muslims who make up only five per cent of the population. These facts show the unbalanced hatred meted towards minority faiths. Christians make up just 1.6 per cent of the overall population and yet 15 per cent of blasphemy charges are laid against followers of Christ. Recent figures indicate this percentage is set to grow.


 

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