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FREE ASIA BIBI! Imprisoned Pakistani Catholic Appeals to Pope Francis for Help

By Deacon Keith Fournier
January 8th, 2014
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Asia Bibi is a Roman Catholic Christian woman with fundamental human rights which have been egregiously violated. The Pakistani Blasphemy Law being used to suppress her practice of her religious faith in this Islamic Nation is unjust, immoral and must be repealed.  In the face of such an obvious attack on a Christian, for being a Christian, all those who bear the name Christian must pray, show fraternity, and act in solidarity. FREE ASIA BIBI!

LAHORE, Pakistan (Catholic Online) - The attention of the world should be fixed on a prison cell in Multan, Pakistan. There, a faithful Catholic Christian wife and mother named Asia Bibi has been unjustly imprisoned for four and one half years.

I have written about her plight for several years, joining a chorus of other religious and secular media sources. Yet, she is still imprisoned. Now, she has written to Pope Francis, the peacemaker Pope, asking for his prayer and assistance.

In a beautiful message http://www.news.va/en/news/pope-francis-issues-peace-day-message released on January 1, 2014, the World Day of Peace, Francis wrote to all of us about our vocation to fraternity, another way of speaking about our obligation in solidarity to one another. We have an obligation in solidarity to do everything we can to assist Asia Bibi.  

Her story is the subject of a 2011 book entitled Blasphemy:A Memoir: Sentenced to Death Over a Cup of Water  It was released on Sept. 7, 2011 in Lisbon, Portugal. Asia Bibi collaborated with French journalist Anne Isabelle Tollet and the Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need in telling her story. She was unjustly accused, imprisoned and sentenced to death by hanging in Pakistan under the reprehensible Blasphemy Law.

The Blasphemy Law in Pakistan is an instrument of oppression with which Christians and other minority religious believers are persecuted by Islamic supremacists in Pakistan. The use of such Blasphemy or Religious Defamation laws to persecute is not confined to Pakistan. It is an affront to the fundamental human rights recognized by freedom loving people around the world and revealed in the Natural Moral Law.

As the initial news of Asia Bibi\'s plight spread through the international media, it brought almost universal condemnation. Sadly, it did not last. Her plight and her heroic suffering for the cause of Jesus Christ were soon forgotten. This 45 year old woman, wife and mother was sentenced to hang by the neck until dead on November 8, 2010 for what amounted to simply being a Christian.

One portion of the Penal Code under which she was sentenced reads as follows: Use of derogatory remarks, etc; in respect of the Holy Prophet. Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.\"

NBC news reported in 2010 that Asia Bibi\'s husband, Ashiq Masih, along with the couple\'s children, went into hiding in an undisclosed Christian enclave. He was convinced that the whole family had been targeted for death at the hands of radical Islamic groups. 

Asked about the events which gave rise to his wife\'s death sentence he told NBC news, She was picking berries with other women, when she was sent to get water. One of the women refused to drink the water after my wife dipped her cup into the bucket. This woman said it was contaminated because it was touched by a Christian.\"

According to Masih, all the women then started taunting his wife, and shouting insults against her mother and their children. Bibi just repeated the same insults back at them. The name of the holy prophet never came up. Five days later, the local cleric came to our house, followed by an angry mob, and dragged my wife away,\" he said, recalling the incident that took place in June 2009. They beat her, ripped off her clothes and accused her of insulting the prophet. Then they locked her up in a house until the police came to take her away.\"

So, a neighborhood disagreement, which actually entailed the disparagement of a Christian by hostile Muslims was used as a subterfuge to openly persecute a Catholic Christian simply because she was a Catholic Christian. Her lawyer filed an appeal of her unjust sentence and requested a pardon from the Office of then President Asif Ali Zardari, who served in that office until 2013. He allegedly asked for a review of the facts of the case. It was widely reported that she would receive a presidential pardon or commutation of her sentence in 2010.

However, on Monday, November 29, 2010 Khawaja Sharif, the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, issued an interim order ruling that while the matter is pending before it the President of the Nation was not authorized to issue a pardon for Asia Bibi. So, she sits in a jail cell, in inhumane conditions. She awaits the conclusion of another alleged procedural appeal, in a long line of procedural appeals.

Asia Bibi has never even had a fair trial.

When the initial news of Asia Bibi\'s plight spread throughout the international media, it brought almost universal condemnation. Sadly, it did not last. Her plight and heroic suffering for the cause of Jesus Christ were soon forgotten. This 45 year old wife and mother has been sentenced to hang by the neck until dead on November 8, 2010 for what amounted to simply being a Christian. The unjust sentence was rendered under Pakistan\'s horrendous and, yes I will say it without equivocation, evil, Blasphemy Law.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it clearly, Every human person, created in the image of God, has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible being. All owe to each other this duty of respect. The right to the exercise of freedom, especially in moral and religious matters, is an inalienable requirement of the dignity of the human person. This right must be recognized and protected by civil authority within the limits of the common good and public order. (CCC #1738)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on November 17, 2010, at his general audience in St. Peters square, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, called the world\'s attention to the plight of this contemporary Christian disciple with these words:

Over these days the international community is, with great concern, following the situation of Christians in Pakistan, who are often victims of violence or discrimination. In particular, I today express my spiritual closeness to Ms Asia Bibi and her family while asking that, as soon as possible, she may be restored to complete freedom. I also pray for people who find themselves in similar situations, that their human dignity and fundamental rights may be fully respected.

Now, it is the turn of his successor, Pope Francis, to take the baton and carry forward this just cause. We join the chorus of those throughout the world calling on the Government of Pakistan to intervene in this tragic miscarriage of justice. FREE ASIA BIBI! We join with Asia Bibi in her heartfelt appeal to the peacemaker Pope named Francis to use his office and his global popularity to aid in securing the release of this woman. 

At the beginning of 2014 Asia Bibi wrote to Pope Francis. Excerpts from the letter have appeared in several European sources. Among the excerpts we read that she told Pope Francis, \"I would have liked to be in St. Peter\'s for Christmas to pray with you, but I trust in God\'s plan for me and hopefully it will be achieved next year.I also hope that every Christian has been able to celebrate the Christmas just past with joy. Like many other prisoners, I also celebrated the birth of the Lord in prison in Multan, here in Pakistan.

This heroic Christian woman expressed her gratitude for those praying for her release writing, "I am very grateful to all the churches that are praying for me and fighting for my freedom". She made her plight clear, I do not know how long I can go on and on. If I am still alive, it is thanks to the strength that your prayers give me. I have met many people who speak and fight for me. Unfortunately still to no avail. At this time I just want to trust the mercy of God, who can do everything, that all is possible. Only He can liberate me.

This winter I am facing many problems: my cell has no heating and no suitable door for shelter from the bitter cold.  Also the security measures are not adequate, I do not have enough money for daily needs, and I am very far from Lahore so my family cannot help me.

She concluded this touching letter displaying the piety and affection of a devout Catholic woman in these tender words, I know you pray for me with all your heart.  And this gives me confidence that one day my freedom will be possible. Certain to be remembered in your prayers, I greet you with affection. Asia Bibi, your daughter in the faith.\"

Well, God works through His people - that includes you and me. I ask everyone reading this article to pray for the release of Asia Bibi. Please join with me in storming heaven with your fervent prayer - seeking the intervention of a just and merciful God to FREE ASIA BIBI!. Then, raise hell by speaking out against this horrid abuse of fundamental human rights which is being perpetrated by the Government of Pakistan.

Asia Bibi is a Roman Catholic Christian woman with fundamental human rights which have been egregiously violated. The Pakistani Blasphemy Law being used to suppress her practice of her religious faith in this Islamic Nation is unjust, immoral and must be repealed.  In the face of such an obvious attack on a Christian, for being a Christian, all those who bear the name Christian must pray, show fraternity, and act in solidarity. FREE ASIA BIBI!

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