Tense Christmas weekend ahead in Pakistan

While most of us are making last minute Christmas purchases, Christians in Pakistan are hoping for a peaceful rally on Christmas day. As I note in this column on Christian Post today, the situation there is tense.

Without leaving her jail cell in the Punjab province of Pakistan, Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five who has been sentenced to death by a regional court for allegedly blaspheming Muhammad, will be at the center of a tense Christmas weekend. Over a year and half ago, Ms. Bibi was involved in a dispute with Muslim neighbors who accused her of violating laws forbidding negative speech about Muhammad. Even though she denied the charges, she has been jailed since then and her plight has brought international attention to Pakistan’s laws regulating religious speech. The Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have called for Bibi’s release.

I spoke yesterday morning with Raza Anjum, the British public official who is in Lahore to try to win Bibi’s release. He described a very tense situation and I am concerned that the situation could erupt. With Islamic groups calling for a strike, and the death of Bibi in the days before the Christian groups march on Christmas day, the security situation is very tense.

“There have been a lot of protests going on by extremist groups because they are trying to politicize the issue and distorting the actual facts and the truth behind this case. They’ve been protesting quite regularly, last week we had about three protests,” he explained.

As the Christmas holiday approaches, Mr. Anjum hopes his efforts can secure safety and justice for Asia Bibi. He plans to visit with her in jail on Christmas Day.

CNN and WaPo have more on the situation. The blasphemy laws were recently considered by the UN with the closest vote to discourage them in years, according to Human Rights First.

If you have not done so, go sign the petition in support of Asia Bibi. If you have signed, please send the link to some friends and give Asia and the religious minorities in Pakistan a Christmas present of your time.

Radio Australia summarizes Asia Bibi blasphemy case

This radio broadcast is the best summary of the Asia Bibi case I have found. Click the link to listen to this segment on Windows Media Player.

Radio Australia – Asia Bibi

You hear from Ms. Bibi who describes the false charges of blasphemy, the Governor who wants to pardon her, the legislator who has tabled a bill to amend the blasphemy laws, and the Imam who wants to kill her.

Please listen and go sign the petition directed at Pakistani government leaders.

What Asia Bibi is up against in Pakistan

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman in Pakistan convicted of blasphemy against Muhammad and sentenced to death, has an appeal hearing this week. However, don’t expect the legal profession as an institution to help her or push for human rights. This article in Pakistan’s The Nation, quotes the President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir, who urges no change in the blasphemy laws and no help for Asia Bibi.

The Bar committee, also attended by the vice president of the provinces, the secretary and the other office-holders, unanimously carried a resolution to refrain the government from amending the Blasphemy Law and also granting pardon to Asia Bibi, a condemned prisoner on the same charges. The Bar expressed serious concern over Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s move to get presidential pardon for Asia when her appeal was pending hearing before the court of law.

They said the government functionaries were seeking amendment or a complete repeal of the said law, which it said, was a shameful effort being made under a foreign agenda, which is strongly condemnable.

“In no circumstance, any amendment encouraging or creating any effort to defile the sacred name and personality of Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) can be brought upon the statute book.”

The Committee has unanimously warned the government and the members of the Parliament to refrain from implementing any such proposal. “The SCBA and the legal fraternity would never accept any such pardon and amendment and it would be resisted by every possible efforts”, it added.

Gov. Salman Taseer has taken a great risk to call for pardon for Asia. And apparently any lawyer that will defend her will be acting in contradiction to this resolution of Pakistan’s association of lawyers. The slogan on the front page of the website is “The help you need when you need it most.” However, this is a hollow sentiment when it only applies to the Muslim in-group.

UPDATE: A report from the Pakistan Daily Times clarifies the stance of the Bar Association.

SCBA clarifies news report

LAHORE: This is to deny that the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), in its second executive committee meeting held on December 18, unanimously passed any resolution regarding either Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code itself or any case related to it.

The facts are that a resolution to that effect was presented by a member of the executive committee, but only a portion of it was passed unanimously, which paid reverence and commitment to honour and respect the name of the holy Prophet (PBUH), while the rest of the resolution regarding 295C, the case of Aasia Bibi and its consequences was deferred with consensus.

The Supreme Court Bar Association regrets the attempt made by one of its executive members to mislead the press and the public. The SCBA is a responsible body and its resolutions will be fully debated before being passed, especially unanimously.