This Saturday, March 26, an appeals court in Pakistan will review the case of Aasiya Noreen, or Asia Bibi as she is better known, an illiterate young Pakistani Christian who was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010.
Local women became angry with Asia when she drank from the same water source they were using. After subsequent arguments, she was charged under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law for insulting the prophet Muhammad – a charge she categorically denies. For the past five years Asia has been imprisoned and separated from her husband and children (who have had to go into hiding) while she awaits execution. Threats against her life have continued in prison, and she was moved to solitary confinement in a small windowless cell where she cooks her own food in order to protect her from other inmates and from attempts to poison her. She has reportedly been abused by the guards in the prison where she is being held and her health is now very frail.
The Pakistani Christian minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, and another politician, Salmaan Taseer, who argued for Noreen’s release, were both assassinated for advocating on her behalf. In October 2014 the Pakistani court system dismissed Asia's appeal and upheld her death sentence. The following month, her lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court of Pakistan which suspended Bibi's death sentence for the duration of the appeals process. After several postponements the Lahore High Court will hear her appeal this week – on March 26.
We should join Christians around the world in praying for the release of Asia Bibi. Pope Benedict XVI and other leaders have publicly called for the charges against her to be dismissed, and many Christian organizations are trying to mobilize believers to help her. The Voice of the Martyrs organization has organized a petition that can be signed online and hopes to gather one million signatures on behalf of our sister Asia. At the time of writing, 697,586 people have signed the petition and you can sign it here.
Given the Pakistani Supreme Court hearings scheduled for this weekend, we should pray earnestly for Asia Bibi this week. Pray not only for Asia as an individual (who was condemned not for taking a cup of water but for her Christian beliefs), but also for all who are similarly afflicted by Pakistan’s harsh Islamic blasphemy laws. Because this is a high profile case, if the court rules in her favor, it could be an important precedent for other Christians unjustly threatened by the same blasphemy laws now and in the future.
There are other things we can do. In the United States we can contact our Congressional representatives to protest America's eight billion dollar yearly aid to Pakistan and to argue that that aid should be stopped as long as persecution of minorities is allowed in that country.
But most of all, Asia Bibi needs our prayers – and she needs them now.