Schools closed, demonstrations erupt following Asia Bibi verdict

Call to pray for Pakistan’s Christians

Pakistan’s Christians are tense and worried as a backlash erupts from hardliners after the country’s Supreme Court overturned the blasphemy conviction of Christian woman Asia Bibi.

Staff at Pakistan Bible Society pulled down the shutters in their office in Lahore and stayed inside as violent demonstrations erupted in Lahore and three other cities. All the Christian schools in Lahore were shut for three days in case of attacks by extremists.

“We are upset with the reaction [to the case].” – Anthony Lamuel

However, Pakistan Bible Society’s General Secretary (CEO) Anthony Lamuel appreciated the speech by Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday (as did millions of others, according to Lamuel). Khan attacked hardliners for attempting to disturb the peace, saying “they are doing no service to Islam.” He further stated: “The decision was taken according to law.”

“Imran Khan gave a lovely speech – it was very encouraging,” Lamuel told Eternity in a Skype call from the UK.

“It was a very bold step by the Prime Minister, so that probably would defuse things, I think.

“We are upset with the reaction [to the case].”

Mr Lamuel said Asia Bibi and her family will probably be moved out of Pakistan for her safety.

“We don’t know if anything else is being worked out behind the scenes. Other cases [of blasphemy] were moved out of Pakistan. So that would be the best thing to be done; otherwise she would most probably be killed.”

In 2011, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, and the Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, were murdered for speaking out on Bibi’s behalf and calling for blasphemy law reform.

In the wake of Salman Taseer’s killing, Mr Lamuel said he was a member of a delegation that discussed possible amendments to the contentious blasphemy laws.

“The majority of [blasphemy] cases are personal vendetta or property grab or some other dispute.” – Anthony Lamuel

“In that meeting we suggested that if a false case is proved, then the person who is pursuing the case should be given the same punishment, so then people would be very careful,” he said.

“Now the government is suggesting the same thing … the majority of cases are personal vendetta or property grab or some other dispute. Ninety per cent of cases are against Muslims, actually, so you can judge that it’s being misused.”

The Supreme Court made its decision based on 10 points where the evidence against Asia Bibi was not credible, including many instances of inconsistencies in the statements of eyewitnesses.

Across the globe in Singapore, a Pakistani delegate told a conference today that “we don’t know what Pakistan we will face as we go home.” The audience of Christian writers and publishers from 52 countries were then moved to pray for the delegates from Pakistan.

Christian readers of Eternity, please join in prayer for the safety of Asia Bibi, for her lawyer’s family and other public supporters; for the Supreme Court judges that ruled in her case; for the Christians of Pakistan, that they will be protected from violence; and for the Muslims of Pakistan, that they will seek the way of peace.

According to a report in The Christian Post, Bibi could hardly believe that after nearly a decade in prison, she is to be set free.

“I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?” Bibi told AFP by phone from prison. “I just don’t know what to say, I am very happy, I can’t believe it.”

Her lawyer, Saiful Mulook, said it was the happiest day of his life.

“The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings,” he said.

Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, also expressed his and his children’s happiness. “We are grateful to God. We are grateful to the judges for giving us justice. We knew that she is innocent.”

As protesters continued to hold sit-ins across the country for a second day and roads were blocked in major cities, the government formed a ministerial committee to hold talks with protesters, TV channel Geo News reported.