Bombings and blasphemy laws: standing with the persecuted.

Release International

In 2009 a Christian woman in Pakistan was accused of blasphemy after getting into an argument with fellow farm workers. As a result she has been on death row for six years, separated from her husband and young children, unsure whether her appeal will succeed in court or whether ultimately she will be executed. And even if she is cleared on appeal she may still be vulnerable to extrajudicial killing. There is a price on her head and her family are in hiding.

That woman is Asia Bibi, whose case has become something of a cause celebre inside and outside Pakistan. In fact it led to the assassinations in 2011 of Pakistan’s Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who had defended Asia and had tried to have the blasphemy laws repealed.

And Asia, whose final appeal to the Supreme Court is due next month, is not the only one. In 2013 38 individuals were imprisoned in Pakistan on blasphemy charges. Christians, Muslims and Hindus have all suffered as a result of these widely misused laws that run counter to the guiding principle put forward by Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In his first Presidential Address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan in 1947 he said:

‘You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the State.’

But Christians are not ‘free’ in Pakistan. As well as the blasphemy laws, they are also living under the threat of direct violence. This Easter a suicide bomber attacked a park in Lahore deliberately targeting Christian families. More than 70 people, not just Christians, were killed in the blast. And more than 350 were injured, some of whom have subsequently died of their injuries. Others live with the trauma of having lost family members and friends.

Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson recently visited Pakistan where he met a number of those who had suffered as a result of the bombing.

‘I met with one young man who had shrapnel blasted in to his face, head, arm and heart. Release has been supporting him though his complicated medical treatment. Even though his injuries were severe he considered himself blessed by God to be alive because two of his cousins were killed right next to him! It is hard to express the trauma and grief that young man carries in his heart. His body is healing but he, and many like him, need emotional and spiritual healing too. Praise God that while I was there I had the joy of seeing him, and twenty other families, begin one of our biblically based trauma debriefing courses which will really help that healing process to start.’

Paul will be sharing more about his experience in Pakistan at the Labour Party Conference Service on September 25.

What can we do about it in the UK and why is Release partnering with Christians on the Left to highlight this issue?

The Bible verse that continues to inspire Release is Hebrews 13:3: ‘Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.’ That talks about caring for those who are suffering because of their faith, remembering them as if we were there with them – that means true, practical compassion not just words of sympathy.

We believe that Christians on the Left have a heart for justice and care for the poor and the suffering as a priority and so we are delighted to be able to partner with them to raise the issue of persecution of Christians in Pakistan, and around the world, at the Labour Party Conference church service on September 25.



WATCH: Release talks to the BBC about the blasphemy laws following the bombing of Christians in Lahore at Easter:

LOVE KILLS HATE: Find out how Christians around the world are overcoming hatred with love.

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