Asia Bibi will spend Christmas in hiding in Pakistan

Asia Bibi, the Christian Pakistani woman whose blasphemy conviction was overturned in a landmark decision by Pakistan’s highest court, will spend Christmas in hiding in Pakistan.

According to the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Bibi remains under police protection in a secret location in Pakistan, awaiting a Supreme Court petition hearing in January, which has called for her acquittal to be quashed.

“[She is] unable to exit the room she is in for fear she will be instantly killed,” said BPCA spokesperson Wilson Chowdhry.

“Christmas will be a lonely time for Asia Bibi and her husband Ashiq as they spend it together, away from other family members, as we know the appeal will not be heard before Christmas and is expected during the early part of the new year.”

Asia Bibi was acquitted in October after spending eight years in prison. She had been convicted of blasphemy when a local village woman accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. But news of her acquittal caused intense riots across Pakistan, led by hardline Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) who called for her death.

In a deal to end the days-long protests, which shut down some of Pakistan’s major roadways, the Pakistani government agreed to a review petition of Bibi’s blasphemy case.

The British Pakistani Christian Association warned that the decision was like “signing [Bibi’s] death warrant”, requiring Bibi to stay in Pakistan to await the outcome of the review, a country where many of its citizens would like to see her dead.

BPCA have called for prayer for 12 other Christians who have been accused of blasphemy in Pakistan and await their own appeal, including Patras Masih. Masih, 21, was arrested in February after blasphemous texts were allegedly found on a phone he had given to a repair shop.

An angry mob stormed Masih’s Christian neighbourhood in February, calling for him to be lynched. When they realised he had fled, the mob threatened to burn down the entire community, according to a report by Al Jazeera. More than 800 Christians were afraid to return to their homes. Masih’s cousin was also arrested and nearly killed because of his association with Masih. He turned himself in to police fearing for the safety of his family.

Two other Christians were sentenced to death in Pakistan on blasphemy charges this week, according Vatican News. Qaisar and Amoon Ayub from Lahore were arrested in 2015, accused of posting offensive material against Islam on their website. The sentence was handed down by a district court in Pakistan. Their lawyers have said they will appeal the decision before the Lahore High Court.

“While the world’s attention is focused on freedom for blasphemy victim Asia Bibi, over a dozen other innocent Christians are still languishing in prison cells, awaiting their own appeal to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. We remind our readers of those we have to pray for over Christmas,” said BPCA in a statement.