According to Pakistan’s Minister for Human Rights, the Sindh High Court has ordered Arzoo Raja, a 13-year-old Christian girl, be recovered by police and moved into a shelter home. This comes almost a month after Arzoo’s parents claim their daughter was abducted, forcefully converted, and forcefully married by their 44-year-old Muslim neighbour.
This news comes as a positive development for Arzoo’s parents and the legal team fighting to have her returned to her family. According to the family’s lawyer, Arzoo will be brought before the court on 5 November and will have her age determined through medical testing prior to the hearing. Ali Azhar, her alleged abductor has been arrested.
On 13 October, Arzoo was abducted from her family home in Karachi by her Muslim neighbour, Azhar. Arzoo’s parents reported the incident to local police and were informed two days later that their daughter had converted to Islam and married Azhar.
Arzoo’s parents have challenged the validity of the marriage to Azhar claiming that it violates the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act. However, on 27 October, the High Court of Sindh ruled in favour of the marriage, applying an interpretation of Sharia law that allows for underage marriages.
Sources: International Christian Concern, Pakistan Christian Post
- Thank the Lord for this answered prayer and pray for a favourable outcome for Arzoo and her family. Ask the Lord to shield and strengthen Arzoo as the ordeal continues.
- Pray He will provide his ministering Spirit to bring healing to Arzoo, to help her to overcome the trauma she has suffered.
- Ask the Lord to bring conviction to her abductor, his family and those involved in the unjust High Court case.
Post your prayer in the comments below.
Asia Bibi is finally out of Pakistan. Officials have confirmed that Asia has been released. Her lawyer has told CNN she is now in Canada, where two of her daughters have already been granted asylum.
The Christian woman was acquitted of blasphemy by the Pakistan Supreme Court last year, but has not been free to leave the country. Instead, she has had to live in safe houses to escape extremists who continue to call for her to be killed.
Asia was originally charged with blasphemy after sharing a cup of water with Muslim farmworkers, who called her unclean because she was a Christian.
‘It’s a big day,’ Asia’s lawyer, Saif Ul Malook, told The Guardian. ‘Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and reached Canada. She has reunited with her family.’
Voice of the Martyrs, along with our partner Release International welcomes the decision by Pakistan Supreme Court to uphold acquittal of Asia Bibi. Calls for Pakistan to protect Asia and Christian minority, review cases of 200 other Christians behind bars and repeal blasphemy laws.
‘We are delighted that the Supreme Court has stood firm over its principled and courageous decision to throw out the false blasphemy charges against Asia Bibi,’ says Release CEO Paul Robinson. ‘Anything else would have been giving in to extremism and handing Pakistan over to mob rule.’
The decision, which ends Asia’s 10-year ordeal, was made amid tight security. It means she is now free to leave the country and seek asylum. Two of her daughters are reportedly already in Canada.
Says Paul Robinson: ‘The government of Pakistan must now follow the lead of its Supreme Court and do the right thing. The government must:
- guarantee Asia’s safety,
- it must safeguard the Christian minority against mob reprisals by stepping up security against any suggestion of rioting and violence,
- and it must urgently review the case against every other prisoner who has been accused and jailed for blasphemy.
‘Release partners in Pakistan say there are 218 other Christians who still face blasphemy charges – a disproportionate number of those accused. And when they are accused, individuals, families and entire communities face violence at the hands of vigilantes.’
The British Pakistani Christian Association believes nine out of ten Pakistanis still consider Asia Bibi to be a blasphemer, making her a target for assassination.
Adds Paul Robinson: ‘In the Asia Bibi case, the Supreme Court revealed what Release has been saying for years, that accusations of blasphemy can be malicious and built on lies, simply to settle scores. These blasphemy cases – and the blasphemy law itself – must now come under review.’
According to the BBC, since 1990 more than 70 people have been killed by lynch mobs after being accused of blasphemy. And Amnesty International describes a large increase in blasphemy cases since the 1980s: ‘According to [the National Commission for Justice and Peace] NCJP, a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis, 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various provisions on offences related to religion since 1987.’ Since that figure was compiled Release partners put the number of Christians higher at 218.
The influence of Islamist parties in Pakistan is growing.
Islamist parties are calling for a tightening of Sharia (Islamic law). At their most extreme, they are campaigning for a harder line against blasphemy. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), is calling for blasphemers to be put to death. During the elections the party’s slogan was ‘Death to blasphemers’.
After the initial Supreme Court decision, TLP supporters flooded streets in several cities calling for Asia Bibi to be hanged and the government to be overthrown. After a long, tense standoff, the ringleaders were arrested.
TLP banners have depicted ‘holy warriors’ who have murdered alleged blasphemers. These include Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer after he called for the repeal of the country’s blasphemy laws.
In March 2011, the only Christian member of the cabinet was shot dead for backing his call to change the blasphemy laws. Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti had earlier received death threats for speaking out. Even to want to discuss the blasphemy laws was, it seemed, an act of blasphemy.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has since apparently nailed his colours to the mast over the blasphemy laws. He said, ‘We are standing with article 295c and will defend it.’ 295c is the blasphemy clause that mandates the death penalty for any ‘imputation, insinuation or innuendo’ against Islam’s prophet Mohammed.
A Christian woman who was sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy has won her appeal and been acquitted in a landmark ruling.
Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours.
She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.
Her case has been deeply divisive in Pakistan where there is strong support for the blasphemy laws.
There is tight security in the capital, Islamabad, amid fears of violence. Hardline religious clerics have called on their supporters to take to the streets.
The ruling was read out by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar at the Supreme Court in Islambad.
“The appeal is allowed. She has been acquitted. The judgement of high court as well as trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside.”
Critics say Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws have often been used to get revenge after personal disputes, and that convictions are based on thin evidence.
Asia Bibi’s case gained added prominence when a regional governor, Salman Taseer, who had appealed for leniency for her was murdered in a public square in Islamabad by his own bodyguard.
There are fears that there could be a violent response to her acquittal.
As with her previous trials and appeal large crowds have gathered outside the court in Islamabad on Wednesday demanding her conviction be upheld.
She has been offered asylum by several countries and was expected to leave the country if acquitted.
- Praise God for answered prayer.
- Pray that Asia and all those who made her freedom possible today remain safe.
- Pray that God will protect all Christians in Pakistan.
A Finnish aid worker held hostage for nearly four months in Afghanistan was freed on 14 September. She had been kidnapped from an international guesthouse in Kabul, run by her employer, Operation Mercy, when it was attacked in May; her German female colleague and Afghan guard were killed. The unnamed woman was studying Dari, preparing for her first assignment.
The Swedish-based aid organisation said “It is with great joy that we confirm the release of our Finnish colleague, who was abducted on 20 May. The well-being of our colleague is being assessed at this time. We request privacy for our colleague and our colleague’s family.”
Finland’s foreign ministry confirmed she was “safe” but gave no further details.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, nor for holding her hostage.
The German woman had worked in Afghanistan for 13 years (with Operation Mercy since 2011) and headed a literacy project. “Both [women] were experienced and had a deep desire to serve the people of Afghanistan,” said the organisation in a statement shortly after the May attack.
The guard, who was beheaded, was employed directly by the residents of the compound, not by the aid agency.
Guesthouse neighbours told the German broadcaster ZDF that the perpetrators seemed to have slipped quietly into the guesthouse premises. Operation Mercy said they had broken into the women’s residence, and that other staff were not affected, nor were they aware of the incident as it unfolded.
After the incident, the Finnish foreign ministry, together with the Afghanistan National Directorate of Security, launched an investigation, urging “the immediate release of the kidnapped person.”
Operation Mercy has over 300 staff worldwide. Its work in Afghanistan includes projects helping to reduce infant mortality, provide leadership training and help to empower women.
Sources: World Watch Monitor, BBC
- Thank the Lord for this answered prayer. Continue to pray for her as she overcomes her ordeal and considers her future.
- Remember the family members still in mourning and pray these deaths will not be in vain but be used by the Lord for good.
- Pray for the protection of others serving in ministry in Afghanistan so they can continue to assist many