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ACN NEWS – Pakistan: Christians denied COVID-19 aid

25.05.2020 in Pakistan

ACN News — COVID-19 Pakistan
Christians in Pakistan are deprived of urgent aid

By John Pontifex, ACN United Kingdom
Adapted by Amanda Griffin, ACN Canada
Published on line May 25, 2020

 

Pleas to government to provide domestic and sanitary workers with gloves and masks

 

NGOs and Muslim leaders in Pakistan stand accused of refusing to give COVID-19 emergency aid to Christians and other religious minorities –  though they are among those worst affected by the pandemic.

Christians living in ‘7 lanes’ district of Gulshan Iqbal Town, a slum area of Pakistan, came under fire from Muslim extremists (Taliban) displaced to the neighbourhood from the tribal area bordering Pakistan. The Christian community erected walls blocking the seven lanes for security after a spate of killings and other violence.

 

Cecil Shane Chaudhry, Executive Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, a Catholic-run human rights organization, described reports of religious organizations and mosques making announcements telling Christians not to come forward for food and other emergency handouts.

Speaking to the British branch of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Mr Chaudhry said Christians and other religious minorities were particularly in need of help as many are in the lowest paid jobs, dependent on daily wages, and on the breadline, with work drying up because of the lockdown. And, stressing how minority women were especially at risk, he called on the Pakistan government to provide masks, gloves and other COVID-19 protective equipment for sanitary workers and domestic workers – many of whom are Christians.

With Pakistan’s government now easing the lockdown, Mr Chaudhry said he feared a spike in COVID-19 cases especially among Christians and other minorities whose jobs, he said, make them particularly at risk of infection. Mr Chaudhry gave reports of how Christians in a village near Lahore on Raiwind Road had been denied food aid and how, in a separate incident, about 100 Christian families were excluded from food distribution in Sandha Kalan village, in the Punjab’s Kasur district. He said there were reports of COVID-19 emergency aid staff on the ground refusing to give help to non-Muslims as the donations had come as Zakat charitable offerings, in accordance with Islamic Shari‘a law.

Mr Chaudhry said: “COVID-19 knows no boundaries – everyone is at risk, irrespective of their religion so how can it be fair to deny food and other emergency help to Christians and other minorities, especially when they are among those suffering the most at this time?” The NCJP chief quoted an imam from a mosque in Lahore’s Model Town who, he said, had announced in a recent sermon: “There will be a ration distribution tomorrow morning for needy people but only for Muslims.”

Pakistan has 48,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus, according to latest reports, with 1,017 deaths, although Mr Chaudhry stressed many cases were going unreported.

Brick kilns near Faisalabad: Many Christians do this job which earns very little money and results in them becoming in effect bonded labourers at the mercy of brick kiln owners/landlords

 

The NCJP chief called on the government to consult with minority groups about COVID-19 response initiatives and to make better use of census data to target aid for the most vulnerable. He said: “Although plans are being worked on, for now we do not know of [any initiatives to include] religious minority members to ensure their needs are not ignored.”

Aid to the Church in Need has in place a 7.5 million dollars COVID-19 emergency aid program to support the work of the local Churches worldwide.

 

We must remain present for them!  Let us help our brothers and sisters in the faith.

ACN News – Asia Bibi: An encounter with an icon

28.02.2020 in ACN, Pakistan, Persecution of Christians

Asia Bibi in France

An encounter with an icon

 By Thomas Oswald for ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
Published online February 28, 2020

 

Asia Bibi has requested political asylum while in France. This Pakistani Christian woman, whose fate ACN has followed closely since she was first sentenced in 2010, recently gave an interview to ACN France, Aid to the Church in Need’s national office in France.

Asia Bibi is visibly tired. Interviews and official meetings have taken up the few days she has spent in France. Nonetheless, she manages to smile for the photographers with their constantly clicking cameras and valiantly gives her consent for a the long succession of interview requests. “It is thanks to the media that I am still alive,” she insists.

Victim of an absurd law

In fact, she owes the end of her personal Calvary to one French journalist in particular, Anne-Isabelle Tollet, whom she calls “her sister” and who has helped her with the publication of the book Enfin libre! (Free at last! French edition published by éditions du Rocher – due to be published in Canada in April or May, in French). This autobiography relates how this Pakistani Catholic peasant woman has come to be a world icon of resistance to Islamic fundamentalism.

 

Asia Bibi with French journalist, Anne-Isabelle Tollet

Accused of blasphemy by her Muslim neighbours, Asia Bibi spent nine years in prison on    death row, faced with the constant threat of execution. Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are frequently invoked simply as a means of settling scores between neighbours, and may result in the direst consequences. Often those accused have been lynched by enraged crowds or else “disappear” or commit “suicide” in prison. The media attention given to the case of Asia Bibi undoubtedly helped save her from such a fate.

 

Finally acquitted on appeal by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on  October 31, 2018,  Ms Bibi was at last able – thanks to international pressure and numerous different twists and turns in her case – to escape the country which held her prisoner for many long years – to find her freedom in Canada on May 8, 2019. Now, a landmark legal precedent has been set, a so-called “Asia Bibi Law” which enables those accused of blasphemy to fight back against their accusers. The anti-blasphemy laws still exist unchanged in Pakistan, but at least now exists a greater risk in using them to unjustly accuse an individual.

 

 

“We have been Christians there for over a thousand years”

“I could never have imagined ever being famous,” Asia Bibi insists in her quiet, gentle voice. She tells of a happy childhood in her native Pakistan: “I used to play together with my Muslim neighbours; there was never any separation,” she recalls nostalgically. Baptized at the age of eight, she never faced any difficulties in living her faith. Speaking of her religious heritage, she recalls the ancient roots of Christianity in Pakistan: “We have been Christians there for over 1,000 years.” However, as she grew up, she became aware of differences separating Christians and Muslims in her country. She heard people speak of attacks against Christians, some victims lynched by enraged crowds. There were also cases of Muslim men in search of a bride who might simply abduct a young Christian woman and forcibly “convert” her in order to marry her.

“There is absolutely no anger in her when she recalls this devastating time of trial in her life, only sadness and weariness.”

 

Christians seen as “unclean”

She also discovered that Muslims regarded Christians as “unclean.” It was on account of this belief in fact that her life abruptly changed on one extremely hot day, June 14, 2009. She was working with some Muslim neighbours when they told her to go and fetch some water. She obeyed, drawing up the water, and then drank a cup of water before taking it to the person who had asked for it. One of the women refused to drink from it, because she maintained that Asia had rendered the water “unclean.”  Asia Bibi defended herself, saying that she did not think that the Prophet Muhammad would agree. To which the woman replied that she had just committed a blasphemy! The consequence was prison, her family forced to flee on account of threats by fundamentalists, and a sentence of death by hanging… It was a judicial saga that only reached its final, but happy, conclusion in 2019. There is absolutely no anger in her when she recalls this devastating time of trial in her life, only sadness and weariness.

 

Not the only one

But Asia also knows that she is by no means the only person to have been placed in this situation, and she wants to use the microphone that is held out to her to speak out on behalf of those who are still suffering from accusations of blasphemy in her home country. She becomes more animated as she speaks, and her previously quiet voice becomes more confident and assured: “Throughout my imprisonment I held the hand of Christ. It is thanks to him that I managed to stay strong. So don’t be afraid!” Seeing this new force and conviction, one can certainly see the strength of this woman who has remained undefeated after ten years of terrible trials. This is the woman who stubbornly refused to leave her family or deny her faith, as she was asked to do after her arrest, in order to escape  conviction.

She has been forced to leave her country and yet she still retains the hope of being able to return again one day. “It is the country of my birth, I love Pakistan with all my heart!”she insists. Meanwhile, Asia Bibi hopes to be able to seek refuge in France. “I’ve been met with a great deal of love here, and I think I will be happy with you,” she says.

 

 

Below, a brief video testimonial with subtitles in French

Project of the Week: Support for the youth apostolate in Pakistan

27.02.2020 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, Family Apostolate, Pakistan, Pastoral aid, Youth Apostolate

Project of the Week:  Pakistan

A spiritual breath for a youth apostolate in Faisalabad

Published on line February 27, 2020

Roughly half of the 207 million people who make up the population of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are under the age of  25, and one third of these are actually aged 14 or younger. Young Christians, living in a society that is 97% Muslim, face many more and much greater challenges than their Muslim counterparts. In fact, for many Christians it is almost impossible to advance professionally within society. And, the religious minorities such as the Christians find themselves in, the lowest strata of society, Most having to work as street sweepers, labourers, or domestic employees.

 

A Christian name can be enough to block one’s access to higher studies. Non-Muslims are in effect seen as second-class citizens, not full Pakistani citizens. They are even unfavourably portrayed in official school textbooks, and the many services performed by Christians on behalf of the country are passed over in silence. Islam is promoted in almost every area of the curriculum, most notably in the selection of essay topics. Christian pupils are often insulted and excluded, or else pressured to convert to Islam. For Christian girls it is even worse, since they are doubly discriminated against, because  of their gender. And young Christian girls face a very real danger of being abducted and forcibly married to their abductors – also meaning: being forcibly converted to Islam.

2020: Year of Youth!

 

In response to this situation, the Catholic Church in Pakistan is working very hard to encourage Christian youth to take pride in their faith and give confident and capable answers whenever they are confronted with prejudice and ignorance. Many Catholic children also attend one of the many Church-run Sunday schools, but the older teenagers also need guidance and support in living their faith. So it was that in November 2019 the Catholic Church in Pakistan announced a “Year of Youth” for this 2020 year, which will contain a range of different initiatives.

The Youth Commission of the diocese of Faisalabad is seeking support for its youth apostolate program. Its aim:  to strengthen young Catholic women and men in their faith and help them to stand firm – and find their rightful place in society. ACN is supporting this initiative with a contribution of $10,725.

 

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

Breaking News – Acquittal of 40 Christians falsely accused in lynching case

30.01.2020 in Pakistan, press@acn-intl.org, Religious freedom

 

PAKISTAN

Justice and freedom at last

 

By John Pontifex, ACN International
Adapted by ACN Canada
Published on the web January 30, 2020

 

Christians across Pakistan are rejoicing after a court yesterday (Wednesday, 29th January) acquitted 40 men jailed for alleged involvement in the lynching of two people in a district outside Lahore.

 

The 40 individuals, almost all of them Christians, shouted “Alleluia, Praise God” as the anti-terrorism court in Lahore ordered their release after nearly five years in custody.

More than 40 others, on bail after being accused of lesser offences that took place at about the same time in Youhanabad district, were also acquitted.

 

 

A look back at the arrests of these Christians in 2015

They had all been arrested as police responded to riots in Youhanabad sparked by suicide bomb attacks on two churches one Sunday morning in March 2015, in which at least 15 people were killed and more than 70 were injured.

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) just hours after the acquittal verdict, Father Emmanuel ‘Mani’ Yousaf described how emotion swept through the court as the accused began to absorb the court’s decision, citing insufficient evidence to prove the men’s guilt.

Reporting that the accused were now back home with their families, Father Yousaf said: “What we have seen today is wonderful news for Pakistan.”

“Throughout Pakistan, people had been praying, every day praying that the court would rule in their favour. It is a big day for us all.  “The accused have been through a big, big trauma and now, thank God, come out the other side.”

Father Yousaf, National Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), went on to thank ACN for providing legal and paralegal aid, which, he said, had been crucial to the successful outcome of the case. As well as funding legal fees, the charity sponsored schooling for the families of the accused and gifts at Easter and Christmas.

“First of all, we are very grateful to ACN. With the charity’s support and prayers, all the accused are now free. Thanks to ACN, they are now able to restart their lives,” expressed Father Yousaf. He also added that two of the accused had died in jail; that there had been reports of physical maltreatment and pressure to convert to Islam were.

ACN to continue providing help

ACN has pledged to continue helping the families of the accused, especially over the coming year. Father Yousaf explained how the families of the accused had struggled to cover basic costs as the men behind bars had been “the major bread winners.”

He said that starting again back home would be difficult for a number of the men who had suffered multiple bereavements of close family members during their incarceration.

ACN Project of the Week – Training of future catechists in Pakistan

11.09.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, Catechist, International Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, Journey with ACN, Pakistan, Pastoral care

Pakistan—Success Story: Help for the formation of 42 catechists

The work of catechists is of immense importance for the life of the Church in Pakistan. The parishes here are often vast and with numerous outlying settlements, and consequently the catechists are an indispensable support for the priests playing a major role in passing on the Catholic faith. In many cases the life of the parishes would virtually come to a halt without them.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Khushpur’s national catechists’ training centre, in the diocese of Faisalabad, which has existed since 1965, has now become the “beating heart” of the Church’s pastoral outreach in Pakistan. In this country where men dominate the social stage, these lay people from all over the country come here to train in order to bring this vital ministry back to their own home dioceses.

 

Those candidates who are already married and have families are provided with accommodation for the duration of their training. At the same time their wives also attend a range of courses, including healthcare, needlework, and a foundational knowledge or basic Scripture. It is the norm in Pakistan for the worlds of men and women to be segregated. Consequently, the catechists’ wives will also have a vital role to play in ministering to the women in their own communities. Meanwhile, any children they have will at the same time attend kindergarten or school for the duration of the course.

Great emphasis is placed on practical activities. So the catechists in training will also visit the local parishioners to talk and pray with them. They will also accompany the fully trained catechists in their work for a week or so as to acquire a feeling for their own future apostolate.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has long supported the training of these catechists. Last year 42 trainees were able to put $12,600 provided by ACN benefactors, toward the cost of their training.

To all our generous benefactors who provided this help, we pass on their grateful thanks!

ACN Feature Story: Pakistani government-run schools – harsh environment for Christians

10.05.2019 in ACN BENEFACTORS, ACN International, Pakistan

Pakistan

Government-run schools are a harsh environment for Christians

NOMAN is a young Catholic living in Karachi, Pakistan. In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, he talks about the discrimination and mistreatment he experienced at school because of his Christian faith. Here is Noman’s story:

by Tabassum Yousaf,  for ACN International

“I am a first-year student of business. My hobbies include cricket and soccer. I am a Christian.

No one in my family has been kidnapped or victimized by violence, but I have faced discrimination from classmates and teachers because of my religion.

“When I reported a Muslim classmate for cheating, the teacher said: ‘He doesn’t cheat. You did it.’ The classmate called me ‘bhangie’, which means ‘street sweeper’ or ‘gutter cleaner’; he made fun of me and used words that were disrespectful of my faith. But I could not respond in kind. If I had done so, I could’ve been charged with blasphemy, and my family would have suffered. So I stayed silent.

 

“Both my teacher and my principal were well-aware of the situation. My mother was called in to speak with my teacher, but they were not ready to listen to my version of what happened. They even refused to give me a form that the school required for exams—so one year of my studies was wasted.

“But I am thankful to God, who has not abandoned my family. He was there when a friend of my mother offered to pay for my education, which my parents could not afford at the time. The happiest moment of my life was when I completed High School; I was the first person to do so in my family.

“I now study business at a government college. I attend classes for half the year; I spend the other half working as a salesman at the mall, because it is hard for my father to cover all the family’s living expenses. Even in hardship, God has never forsaken me. He has always helped and loved me. God and my family, especially my mother, are the reasons for my happiness.

 

“Despite what I’ve experienced, I believe that I will be successful. And when I worry, I recite Psalm 23; I always carry a rosary with me as well.

“Western countries should support poor Pakistani Christian students with housing and academic opportunities, so that they can at least lead better, more stable lives. Otherwise, I have no hope for Pakistan’s minorities remaining in the country. If I could gather all of the world’s leaders in one room, I would say that I only want free education for our children.”

ACN Project of the Week – Helping the poor build a church in Pakistan

02.05.2019 in CONSTRUCTION, Construction, Pakistan, Pakistan

Project of the Week in Pakistan

Help us to complete a church in Issanagri

Issanagri is a village in Pakistan lying within the parish of the Assumption, which itself is based in the village of Chak 7, in the diocese of Faisalabad. The parish as a whole has a total of 6,000 Catholic faithful, while Issanagri itself has around 300 Catholic families, or approximately 1,500 Catholics.

This village is around a 10 km distance from the centre of the parish making it a long walk to the parish church. Issanagri already has a small chapel of its own, but it is far too small for the number of the faithful who need access it.

Interestingly, the Catholic faithful have taken initiative and have begun building a larger church, making great sacrifices to do so.  They have been collecting money, though poor themselves, and work hard on the building site even though they already have to work very hard to support their families. But despite all their efforts and hard work, they have so far only managed to build part of the church. Holy Mass is still being celebrated in the open air, between the partly built walls, where there is no shelter from the scorching sun or torrential rain, or indeed the biting cold that can still be felt in winter, even in Pakistan.

The parish priest, Father Waseem Walter, has written to ACN for help so that they can finally complete their church. He writes, “It is urgently necessary to build this church.“ We have promised him our help, and his people were overjoyed to learn that we are willing to support them. Now we need YOUR HELP to raise the $16,500 we have promised.

Are you inspired by this project? To give and make another similar project a success – click above and select: Project of the Week.

To learn a little more about the overall situation for Catholics in Pakistan, where Christians make up a mere 2% of the population, please visit or Religious Freedom Report 2018 on line.

ACN Feature Story: Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

04.12.2018 in By Amanda Griffin, Pakistan, Religious Freedom Report, Shahbaz Bhatti

Christians living in ‘7 lanes’ district of Gulshan Iqbal Town, came under fire from Muslim extremists displaced to the neighbourhood from the tribal area bordering Pakistan. The Christian community erected walls blocking the seven lanes for security after a spate of killings and other violence.

Pakistan, an overview of persecution and the blasphemy laws

Pakistan. A country where the Christian minority experiences terrible persecution and discrimination, simply because of their faith.

One tool of discrimination used against Christians or other minorities is the “Blasphemy Law”.  In 1986, the so-called blasphemy law was enacted in Pakistan. In principle, the law protects all religions from offences, but it provides for severe and draconian punishments to offences and blasphemies against Islam: and the 1,300 people along the way accused of transgressing the blasphemy laws since it was instated. A simple suspicion or a statement would be enough to imprison a person, and the burden of proof is placed on the accused, who is left to prove his, or her, innocence. So far, no one who has been found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death has actually been executed. Though one significant case that drew worldwide attention almost saw it through. It involved a woman named Asia Bibi.

 

Asia Bibi, Christian mother of five

Ms. Bibi, a Christian woman from a simple village, living a simple life as a mother of five children—and who in fact has never even left her small surroundings even to go to the capital of Islamabad—when one day a small action on her part would devastate her entire life, giving rise to accusations of blasphemy.  The accusation was followed by a mob attacking her in the streets along with her young daughter–they were beaten and finally Ms. Bibi was arrested.  Having no credibility, as a woman and as a Christian within the Pakistani legal system, she was found guilty of blasphemy and placed on death row where she remained in isolation and awful conditions for the better part of 10 years until very recently.

Eisham Ashiq, 19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi, & Ashiq Masih, husband of Asia Bibi during their October 2018 visit to the UK as guests of Aid to the Church in Need.

On October 31, 2018 – after her appeal to overthrow the death penalty was pushed back many times because judges were unwilling to hear the case, it is assumed for fear of reprisals.  She was finally and joyously for her family and supporters around the world–acquitted of the crime, found not guilty.  But she could not be freed from her imprisonment, not let out to be with her family because riots and unrest demanding she be put to death for her crime, ensued in the country.

Unfortunately, even if she is now out of prison, she has still not been able to be with her family for the threats of violence  persist.  Recent arrests of protest leaders have maintained the ongoing threat to her life.

Like in other moments of Pakistan’s recent history, this mass reaction to uphold the death sentence demonstrates the gravity of the situation local Christians in Pakistan find themselves in. In the past, and during Asia Bibi’s trial, other brave people spoke out for her freedom and minority rights. Many were silenced for doing so, and ultimately some were assassinated. This calls to mind a brave Christian man named Shahbaz Bhatti.

 

Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian and Federal Minister for Minority Affairs

His courageous pursuit towards realizing his dream of religious freedom and equality for all led him in 2008 to being appointed Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs. Within a short time, he managed to introduce a law guaranteeing minorities a five-percent share of public posts, including parliament.  He became personally involved in difficult issues confronting ordinary people, and in particular sensitive to the two percent minority Christian community. He spoke out for the voiceless, and for among others, Asia Bibi. His open criticism about the misuse of the blasphemy law resulted in an ever-growing number of threats and although conscious of the mounting very real danger, he very bravely did not back down from his commitment to help discriminated religious minorities.

On March 2, 2011, his car was sprayed with gunfire outside his Islamabad home. Twenty-seven bullets found their target.

 

A cemetery in Gojra, diocese of Faisalabad – grave of Shahbaz Bhatti -Pakistan 2011 Photo: Magdalena Wolnik

 

Two years before his death, in yet another quote from a book that has become his spiritual testament, Bhatti wrote, “My human body is wounded but these wounds are not physical wounds, they are the wounds of worry, of grief, of the sorrows and pains of the persecuted Christians of Pakistan, of the needy and the oppressed Christians. We are one family with the people who are in need. Thus as a family we should share the sorrows, the griefs and the sufferings of each other.” I am deeply convinced that these words remain equally relevant today, as much to me, as to us all.

Now Cardinal Archbishop Joseph Coutts of Karachi said of him that he was “a man with a dream, with a vision, that people of different faiths can live here together.”

 

Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab

Another brave man assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law. On January 4, 2011, Salmaan Taseer, Governor of Punjab, was assassinated in Islamabad by his bodyguard, who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

 

Pakistan, May 2017  Women and children during Holy Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Lahore.

The abduction and rape of women as a tool

Another tool used to discriminate and persecute Christians, Christian women in particular, according to the Religious Freedom in the World Report released recently by Aid to the Church in Need International*, the abduction of women in minorities is also on the rise in 2018. Often, authorities tell parents the girl has converted and married of her own free will. Many families don’t report the crime, or withdraw the case, because of threats against other women and girls in the family.

 

Such abductions are part of a wider pattern of sexual violence against religious-minority women: more powerless before courts than Muslim women, they are a soft target as rapists know prosecution is unlikely. If a woman cannot prove sex happened against her will, she can be accused of adultery and face arrest, flogging or even stoning to death. For this reason, many women are frightened to report sexual violence committed against them or their loved ones.

 

Mr. Bhatti’s call for prayers for freedom of religion and equality along with so many other brave souls have finally made a difference for Asia Bibi and her family who have never ceased advocating, fighting and praying for her. Reunited, but still awaiting a firm invitation from a safe country, like Canada.

 

Pakistan, May 2017 – At the St. Joseph’s Colony. Visit of the St. Joseph’s Colony, located in a Christian-dominated neighborhood of Lahore, where an enraged mob torched dozens of houses following allegations of blasphemy against a Christian man in March 2013. It appeared that the man had been falsely accused of blasphemy.

To learn more about the volatile and increasingly dangerous situation of Christians in Pakistan, the Pakistani penal code and the “blasphemy laws” introduced in 1986, please consult the full length Religious Freedom in the World Report 2018 with extensive data on the subject compiled on the international website where you can view by country: Pakistan.

By Amanda Griffin, ACN CANADA
Sources: ACN Religious Freedom Report 2016 and 2018, the Catholic Register and various ACN Press articles
*Other sources: Human Rights Council of Pakistan and the Movement for Solidarity and Peace in Pakistan

ACN NEWS: ASIA BIBI CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY OF HER DAUGHTERS

30.11.2018 in ACN International, ACN Italy, Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, By Marta Petrosillo, Pakistan, Religious freedom

Pakistan

ASIA BIBI IS CONCERNED FOR THE SAFETY OF HER DAUGHTERS

“WE ARE AFRAID!” SAYS JOSEPH NADEEM, THE MAN WHO IS SHELTERING HER FAMILY TELLS ACN: “IN THE LAST FEW DAYS THE ISLAMISTS HAVE SHOT AT THE GATEWAY OUTSIDE OUR HOUSE. WE HOPE TO BE ABLE TO FIND A PLACE OF SECURITY SOON, PERHAPS EVEN IN ROME FOR CHRISTMAS.”

United Kingdom, 09.10.2018
Eisham Ashiq (19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi)

“We are afraid. In the last few days they have shot at the gate outside the house where we were living. We face constant threats, and more than once I have been followed.” Such is the frightening situation being endured by the daughters of Asia Bibi, as reported to ACN by Joseph Nadeem, the man who has been sheltering her family ever since this Christian woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy. Given that Asia and her husband are practically illiterate, it is Nadeem who has been helping them with legal support and accompanying her husband Asihiq and younger daughter Eisham in their travels abroad, giving testimony of their experiences.

Today Joseph Nadeem and his family are themselves in danger and living in hiding together with the daughters of Asia Bibi. “Just as soon as Asia was acquitted, we were forced to flee,” he recalls. “Asia and her husband are currently in a place of safety, protected by the government, but we could not remain with them,” he explains. Ever since then Joseph Nadeem and his family, together with the two daughters of Asia, have had to keep on the move, changing homes four times so far. “The Islamists keep hunting us down, and every time we find we are in danger, we have to move on immediately. We cannot go out openly to buy food. I only ever go out by night and with my face covered,” Joseph Nadeem tells ACN.

Daily talks on the phone

Asia is aware of their difficult situation. “I met her as soon as she was acquitted, and every day we speak on the telephone together. She is very concerned for the safety of her daughters.” The two girls, Esha and Eisham, have not even have the chance to embrace their mother since her acquittal, but finally, even if only by telephone, they have been able to spend a few minutes talking to her daily. “I will never forget their first telephone call,” Joseph recalls. “Esha and Eisham wept for hours for sheer joy and relief. Asia cannot wait to see them again, and I am still hoping we can all leave the country very soon, together with Asia and her husband.”

Pakistan: A man sits in a Christian quarter of Multan, the town where Asia Bibi was held prisoner.

Nevertheless, their nightmare is still far from over. Asia Bibi has shown extraordinary strength and courage. “She is a remarkable woman! She has retained an unshakable faith and infinite trust in the Lord. It may sound strange, but it is she who has supported us in these difficult moments. She urges us not to get discouraged and tells us that in comparison with what she has been through so far, this is only a brief moment that will pass.”

Nadeem and the two girls are well aware of the flood of information and interest that her mother’s case has aroused around the world, and they have been able to talk to Asia herself about it. “The international attention and solidarity are a source of comfort for us. Eisham was profoundly moved when she saw her video message projected on the buildings of Venice, illuminated in red light. All of us, Asia included, are grateful to all those who have raised their voices in protest about our situation.”

“We are hoping to be able to leave Pakistan soon and live in a safe place. ACN was the first organization to offer us hospitality. And we are hoping that our two families will be able to spend this Christmas in Rome, together with you all.”

 

ACN News: Pakistan Asia Bibi – almost 10 years of suffering for her and her family

19.10.2018 in ACN UK, Pakistan

Pakistan

Asia Bibi – almost 10 years of suffering for her and her family

United Kingdom, October 2018
Interview with Eisham Ashiq (19 year old daughter of Asia Bibi) and Ashiq Masih (husband of Asia Bibi). Invited to the UK by the AED, Ashiq and Eisham Masih agreed to share the story of their wife and mother.

Nine years. That is how long Asia Bibi has spent in prison and on death row for an alleged blasphemy – which she has always denied. It is also how old her daughter Eisham was, back in June 2009, when she witnessed an enraged crowd beating her mother. Now 18, she met with ACN on Saturday 13 October in London, accompanied by her father, Ashiq Masih.

 

«We last saw Asia on Monday 1st October, before coming to the United Kingdom. She is well, physically and spiritually », her husband, Ashiq Masih, told ACN on Saturday 13 October in London. « After being accused of blasphemy, she has suffered, her whole family has suffered, for almost 10 years now. But by the grace of God, we hope she will very soon be set free », he added.

 

Invited to visit the UK by ACN, Ashiq and Eisham Masih agreed to come and share the story of their wife and mother. « Asia Bibi has been in prison for almost 10 years now», Ashiq recalled. « It’s a terrible thing for a husband and for a child. We have come here today to bear witness, to speak up and be a voice for Asia Bibi, who has been falsely accused of blasphemy. She has asked me to urge you to remember her in your prayers, to pray that she may very soon be set free. » Asia was accused of having « insulted » the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with two Muslim women from her village, who had refused to drink water from a glass that she had just used. Asia Bibi is the first woman to have been sentenced to death under Pakistan’s draconian anti-blasphemy laws.

 “Asia Bibi has been in prison for almost 10 years now”, recalls Ashiq. “It’s terrible for a spouse, for a child. We are here to testify, to carry the voice of Asia Bibi, wrongly accused of having blasphemed.”

Unwavering fidelity

Now that Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which is Asia Bibi’s last hope, has stated on Monday 8 October, that it intends to « reserve its decision for the moment », her family members remain, are determined to remain, resolutely optimistic. « We believe that the Supreme Court judges intend to find in her favour », they insist. It is a conviction that is bolstered by a solid legal case and also on the astounding and unwavering hope of this family, who confess that they draw their strength « from the Lord Jesus Christ, who hears the prayers of those who suffer ».

 

Yet there are all too many reasons for despair for this family, who have been forced to live in hiding in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where blasphemy is an extremely sensitive subject. Mere allegations of blasphemy regularly end up with the lynching of those accused, and Christians are frequently targeted, as a persecuted minority.

 

Ever since its statement on Monday 8 October, Islamist fundamentalists have been demanding that the Supreme Court carry out the sentence pronounced against Asia Bibi by the two lower courts, namely death by hanging. An absolute wave of violence has been unleashed on social networks: « If you free Asia Bibi, prepare yourselves for more Mumtaz Qatris », is their sinister threat. Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in 2016, was the man who assassinated Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, on 4 January 2011, for having publicly spoken up in defence of Asia Bibi and for criticising the anti-blasphemy laws in Pakistan. These laws were introduced by the British at the time when the British Indian Empire included what is today the country of Pakistan. Since 1986, under the dictatorship of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988), this controversial legislation has made blasphemy punishable by the death penalty.

«We cannot remain in Pakistan»

Besides, Ashiq is quite lucid in recognizing that « everyone is afraid; everyone is facing threats – the supporters of Asia Bibi, her lawyers, her judges. » Nevertheless, one can see that he is proud of living in Pakistan, among the Muslims, who represent almost 96% of the population. He goes on to add, « not all of them are in favour of the execution of Asia Bibi. There are many people who understand that we are suffering. But the extremists, and the fundamentalist organisations are also very numerous. » Numerous, and extremely vindictive, as Father Emmanuel Yousaf, the president of the Justice and Peace commission of the Pakistani Catholic Bishops’ Conference, emphasizes.

 

And so, it is with a heavy heart that Ashiq acknowledges that his family can no longer remain in Pakistan. And while he is not revealing the place of their exile, he nonetheless continues to trust in providence: « God will take care of Asia Bibi and her family. He will find us a peaceful place. God will choose for us. » A peaceful place, from which her daughter Eisham is determined to continue her studies in law in order to become a barrister, and so to be able to help the poorest and those accused of blasphemy.

 

by Pierre Macqueron (ACN France)