Pakistan (Wednesday, 04-15-2015, Gaudium Press) The family of the Pakistani woman, Asia Bibi, sentenced to death on blasphemy grounds is touring Europe and met with Pope Francis at today’s General Audience. As reports Paolo Affatato in Vatican Insider.
|(©Ansa) Ashiq Masih, Asia|
A journey of hope. During today’s meeting with the Pope, including a handkiss, after the Wednesday General Audience, Asia Bibi’s family entrusted Pope Francis with the suffering of an innocent woman who has been locked up in a Pakistani prison for the past five years and sentenced to death on false accusations of blasphemy.
“Holy Father, pray for Asia Bibi, for us, for all persecuted Christians in Pakistan,” they asked Francis in tears during the brief meeting which took place after the General Audience. The Pope listened to them, welcomed them and blessed them, assuring them of his closeness and prayers: “I am praying for Asia, for you and for all suffering Christians,” the Pope said.
Asia’s husband Masih and the youngest of her two daughters, Eisham, were unable to hold back their emotion. With them was Joseph Nadeem, educator and director of Lahore’s Renaissance Education Foundation which is currently providing care and assistance to Asia’s family, as well as taking care of her children’s’ education.
After the Audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Pakistani delegation moved swiftly onto the Italian Parliament for a meeting with institutional representatives, including the minister of foreign affairs, Paolo Gentiloni. The Italian government will hear the group’s request for it to put pressure on the Pakistani government to take concrete steps to secure the woman’s release.
The case remains in the hands of the Pakistani judiciary: after the death sentence was passed by the court of first instance and was upheld after appeal, the Supreme Court must now rule on the case. “It is her last chance,” Nadeem remarked.
Yesterday afternoon a documentary titled Freedom for Asia Bibi premiered in Rome and will also be shown in Madrid on 17 April during the “We are All Nazarenes” congress, a meeting that brings together the testimonies of Christians who have fallen victim to persecution in different countries throughout the world.
Rome is just the first leg of a European awareness tour that will include stops in Madrid, Paris and Berlin. The campaign aims to mobilise public opinion and institutions across Europe with in regard to Asia’s case.
It should be said that in November 2014 – after the sentence was upheld following Asia’s appeal – the European Parliament which expresses the opinions of the Union’s citizens approved a resolution which expressed “deep preoccupation for Asia Bibi” who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, in accordance with section 295-C of the Pakistani penal code. The resolution “calls on the Supreme Court to uphold the rule of law and the full respect of human rights, to start its proceedings on the case without delay and to strike down the verdict”.
On 16 October 2014 Lahore’s High Court rejected Asia Bibi’s appeal and confirmed her death sentence. On 24 November 2014, the accused party presented an appeal to the Supreme Court but “the President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan by presidential pardon can still overturn the Lahore High Court decision and grant amnesty to Asia Bibi,” the motion for the resolution reads.
During its assembly, the European Parliament took stock of the fact that “several dozen people, including Muslims, Hindus, Christians and others, are currently in prison on blasphemy charges; whereas to date no death sentence based on blasphemy charges has been carried out, but several accused have been killed by mob violence”.
The Parliament added that “there is tremendous pressure on the Pakistani court system from certain religious leaders to uphold and carry out the death sentences, which are usually handed down by lower courts” and “judicial proceedings often take many years and have a devastating effect on innocent Pakistani citizens and their families and communities”.
The European Parliament called for Pakistan to reform its legislation on blasphemy: these “laws make it dangerous for religious minorities to express themselves freely or engage openly in religious activities; whereas the widespread abuse of these laws is well documented; whereas instead of protecting religious communities they have laid a blanket of fear over Pakistani society; whereas any attempts to reform the laws or their application have been stifled by threats and assassinations”.
Between 1987 and October 2014, 1438 people have been charged with committing blasphemy. Of these: 633 are Muslim, 494 Ahmadi, 187 Christian and 21 Hindu. Since 1990, at least 60 people have been killed in mob violence linked to blasphemy incidents in Pakistan.
From Vatican Insider