ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP) — Christian mother Asia Bibi only offered a Muslim coworker a drink of water. Subsequently convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2010, Bibi awaits the result of her final court appeal heard Oct. 8.
The coworker said Bibi’s Christianity made the water ceremonially unclean, setting off a chain of false accusations related to Bibi’s beliefs and backed by Muslim clerics. The Supreme Court of Pakistan heard hours of testimony before deferring a ruling in the case, with no official timeline set for a decision, according to news reports.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said the delay might signal good news for Bibi in a country where Christians are increasingly treated with hostility by society and the justice system.
“Given the religiously-charged atmosphere of the country regarding blasphemy cases,” the ACLJ said at aclj.org today (Oct. 9), “it is understandable that the court would avoid announcing its decision yesterday, especially if it is in Asia Bibi’s favor.”
The hostile climate for Christians, who number less than 4 million in a country of 196 million, is evidenced by frequent reports of public, institutional and governmental violence against religious minorities. Mob violence, police torture, rape and murder are frequent, the ACLJ’s European counterpart told the United Nations General Assembly as recently as August.
— As of Oct. 8, police had arrested no one in the killing of a Christian father of four, Sumi Saleem, believed beaten to death by doctors and hospital staff at the Government Services Institute of Medical Sciences in Lahore, Morning Star News reported. Saleem had complained when a doctor refused to treat his pregnant sister who was laboring to give birth March 26.
— Muslims have repeatedly attempted to destroy with a crane St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in Layyah, assaulting church members with clubs and other weapons. Days in advance of a Sept. 19 hearing in the case, about 60 Muslims assaulted Christians at the church that was built by parishioners, ACLJ reported Sept. 7. The mob continued to beat Christians as they fled to their homes. In such cases police typically refuse to intervene, but instead tell Christians to flee the violence, according to news reports.
— Christians are living in fear in Muslim Town, a community with a large following of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik radical Muslim party (TLP), after party member Rafique Ahmed reportedly framed a 24-year-old Christian, Farhan Aziz, for blasphemy. The Christian’s family told Morning Star that Ahmed, whose sister was a Christian whom Aziz had dated, had participated in a scheme to rob Aziz of money, making the false charges in August when Aziz uncovered the ruse.
— In a village near Faisalabad, police have refused to protect Full Gospel Assemblies Church, World Watch Monitor reported in June. Under pressure from village Muslims, World Watch said, police forbid Christians to worship at the church and in their homes, telling church leaders they must register with civil authorities for protection. No such provision is stipulated in Pakistani law, according to World Watch.
Bibi’s case is widely considered one of the most egregious cases of injustice stemming from blasphemy laws in force since the 1980s. One of more than 40 so-called blasphemers on death row in Pakistan, according to ACLJ numbers, Bibi would be the first Pakistani the government has ever executed under blasphemy laws.
More than 50 people accused of blasphemy have been killed by angry mobs and others, and hundreds are serving or have served prison terms ranging from three years to 10 years on such accusations, according to the ACLJ. International religious freedom watchdog Open Doors lists Pakistan as the fifth most dangerous country for Christians to live.
The Supreme Court could announce its decision at any time, according to news reports. See BP’s previous story.