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Asia Bibi is acquitted, so why is she still in prison?

Pakistan (MNN) — Although Asia Bibi was acquitted of all blasphemy charges by the Pakistani Supreme Court last week, she is still behind bars. Her prison has been converted into a safehouse and everyone who enters or prepares Bibi’s food is searched.

“It was confirmed over the weekend by the Provisional Minister of Law and member of the Punjab assembly, a man named Raja Basharat, that she is still in prison,” says Bruce Allen with FMI. “The jail has also confirmed that she has not been released — ostensibly for her security, but that is still distressing.”

Bibi was charged with blasphemy in 2010 after a dispute in which her Muslim female coworkers said they would not drink from the same water bucket as Bibi because she is a Christian.

Asia Bibi’s husband and two of her children. (Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)

Meanwhile, calls for Bibi’s death continue in the streets of Pakistan. The influential Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party has organized violent demonstrations across the nation. The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is planning a “million march” this Thursday to protest Bibi’s acquittal.

“There have been several days of protests by the masses out in the streets choking life in Pakistan, blocking roads, attacking buses and setting them on fire — [one] with a driver and 72 passengers inside — death threats to the Supreme Court justices, [and] calls for the ouster of the Prime Minister,” Allen says.

“It has been very disturbing to see as these protestors are leaving their rally points and have in their hands the weaponry, shields, [and] helmets taken from the military and the police…. That is not a good sign that now they have acquired these things and they will stage future protests.”

The Pakistani government is starting to yield to protestors’ demands. On Friday, the administration struck a deal with the TLP agreeing not to oppose a petition to review the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan (Photo courtesy of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung via Flickr under Creative Commons: https://goo.gl/bT3o48)

“In Pakistan, it’s a new administration and a new prime minister as of this summer and they want to have clout in the international community,” Allen explains. “And yet, that’s not who votes them into office. That is not who protests in the streets. So they are also trying to capitulate to this new political party that is all about maintaining the blasphemy laws — making them stricter in fact — and they have a delicate dance to do.”

Bibi may also be put on Pakistan’s exit control list, which would prevent her from leaving the country.

“It’s used a lot for criminals that they don’t want to flee the country. Well, in this case, Asia is not a criminal and in fact, the highest court in the land has said she should not be treated as such and she should be released from jail forthwith.”

Things have gotten so dangerous that Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, was forced by the United Nations and European Union to flee Pakistan.

Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has also pleaded for their family’s asylum in the United Kingdom, the United States, or Canada. Several countries have offered asylum to Bibi and her family.

However, Allen points out, “That still doesn’t get them safely out of the country just to know there is a country that will accept them. And if that happens, the current administration in Pakistan still has to face the society-at-large. It is the world’s second-largest Muslim-majority nation and so many of them now are not just calling for Asia’s death. They’re calling for the death of anyone who supports her, even the Supreme Court justices.”

(Photo courtesy of FMI)

Christians in Pakistan are also facing serious threats from growing anti-Christian rhetoric. Churches are in danger of being attacked as extremist Muslim protestors go back home to their villages and seek other targets.

Senator Abdul Rehman Malik, chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Interior, sent a letter to the Ministry of Interior asking about security measures the government will take to protect Pakistani churches. Malik has sought a briefing to be delivered during the Senate’s meeting on November 9.

Allen says Christians around the world can do more than beseech Pakistan’s political leaders.

“We pray to the one who is the true ruler of Pakistan. Jesus is the Sovereign over all nations….so we petition Him. He is the only one that would be higher than the Pakistani Supreme Court,” he says.

“We pray that Asia and her husband remain strong in their faith and agree, ‘Lord, your will be done.’ We pray for peace in Pakistan.

“This is one of those things that demands perseverance, so we also pray for Asia Bibi and her husband, her children, for their continued perseverance…and that she remains faithful in the light of ups and downs.”

Header photo courtesy of Open Doors USA.

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