Asia Bibi, lawyers hope for a final court hearing before Easter

Asia Bibi, lawyers hope for a final court hearing before Easter

By Paolo Affatato/

The Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan lives in prison with unshakable faith which also supports her family. Her husband and one of her daughters are in Rome.

At the Renaissance Education Foundation (Ref) in Lahore, young professors and students are busy on the usual day of lessons. It is a wonderful spring day, and many students gather outside in the courtyard, under the timid sun. Among the boys involved in learning English and mathematics there are two special girls: Esham and Esha, the daughters of Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy and still imprisoned in the Multan female prison.

The Renaissance Education Foundation, led by sociologist and activist Jospeh Nadeem, is the foundation that is taking care of Asia Bibi’s family, starting with her husband, Ashiq Masih, who is employed as a factotum and chauffeur. “From the outset, we have tried to secure a future for this family, which has been affected by a real tragedy: the indictment and detention of an innocent wife and mother. It is a fact that has forever upset the existence of a poor family of peasants in Punjab” As Joseph Nadeem, who has just arrived in Rome, with Ashiq Masih and Esham, to bring witness to her history and her hope, explains to Vatican Insider.

Ashiq is hopeful, yet he often seems thoughtful, “We have gone through some difficult years, especially for the girls: they really miss their mother. Thanks to the Foundation, we were able to continue to live. Our hope has never extinguished and is still alive today. We pray and hope that Asia will be liberated according to God’s justice” he says. We share this hope with Asia, which we often visit in prison. We can see it in her eyes. This hope gives strength also to us, who suffer with her and for her,” he explains -deeply moved - to Vatican Insider.

“It is the mystery and strength of faith. Asia Bibi, an innocent woman who for the past 9 years, has been forced to suffer an unfair fate, imprisoned in a cell without windows, lives with her heart turned to God, enlightened by the gift of grace and faith” Nadeem tells us. He visited her a few days ago, “the woman is in a good state of physical and psychological health”, what’s more, “she is now crossing a “state of grace”, a humanly incomprehensible condition, given the oppressive situation in which she is found. But the light that comes from above has the power to transform her heart and make it “rock solid” on which even family members, sometimes depressed or dismayed, rely.

The time of Lent is for Asia Bibi, not a sterile or empty time of waiting, but fruitful: a fruitfulness given by the attitude of faith and unceasing prayer, that which entrusts every vicissitude and every suffering to the hands of God. Thanks to the patient work of a Christian woman among the prison guards, Asia, who was an illiterate peasant farmer, has learned to read in recent years and now she’s reading the Holy Bible. It is one of the many gifts that the woman can recognize in her forced isolation, “which she considers a kind of hermitage”, Nadeem reports.

On the other hand, her team of lawyers is striving to obtain the much-longed-for hearing before the Supreme Court, the third stage of the trial, which could be a decisive moment. After the conviction in first degree, which was confirmed on appeal, only the Supreme Court of Pakistan has the power to change Bibi’s fate. The lawyers, in assessing the situation, preferred to file an appeal with the Islamabad Chamber, and now the judges of the Pakistani capital are expected to set a date for the hearing. “We hope that she will be called before Easter: it would be a great gift for us and the possibility of a real resurrection” the head of the REF says.

To establish the date of the sitting of the trial, however, we can’t fail to acknowledge the social and political climate looming over the nation. In recent months, there have been massive demonstrations in Islamabad’s public squares, with a sit-in protest summoned by Islamic fundamentalist groups, lasting several weeks, which has tested the country’s resilience. In their arm wrestling match, while the militants blocked part of the capital, the government, in order to put a peaceful end to the demonstrations, had to sign a memorandum of understanding, which seemed like a blackmailing move to many observers. In the text, the government undertook not to change the blasphemy law in any way and, among the points mentioned, there was also an explicit reference to the case of Asia Bibi.

In Pakistan, this case has become symbolic, which goes beyond the factual reality and the establishment of innocence or guilt. “The Islamic radicals only want her hanged, the same way Mumtaz Qadri was executed. Mumtaz Qadri was the former bodyguard and self-confessed murderer of Governor Salmaan Taseer, a courageous Muslim politician who had defended Asia. “Their pigheaded logic places a killer and an innocent woman on the same level” Nadeem says.

However, the end of the story is still to be written. “We have full confidence in the rule of law and the Pakistani judiciary. The case is very clear and it is fictitious. We are convinced that we can prove to the Supreme Court Asia Bibi’s innocence” Saiful Malook, 60-year-old Muslim lawyer from Lahore, who leads the Asia Bibi defense told Vatican Insider. Nine years after that fateful 19 June 2009, the day of her arrest, the life of the Christian woman is in the hands of a professional of Islamic faith, the lawyer who officially represents her before the Supreme Court. Malook reiterates that he “believes in justice and does not discriminate in the choice of his clients”.

It may seem paradoxical, but it is not: Malook’s presence also serves to strip the case from religious meanings and to bring it back to the reasoning of law and the establishment of a factual truth. Asia has never wanted to offend anybody, let alone the prophet Mohammed, and is the victim of a machination which has been carried out, among other things, by exploiting the Islamic faith. Hers is a clear case of abuse of the blasphemy law, like so many others that have happened in Pakistan. “Few people know - Nadeem says - that, in the early days when they arrived in Lahore, the Asia Bibi family was a guest of a good-willed Muslim family, which offered friendship and solidarity. Thanks to these and other guardian angels we are here today to pray and hope.

Fri, 02/23/2018 - 09:19
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