The urgency to grant Asia Bibi and her family asylum has increased following reports that her two daughters have been “constantly receiving threats,” have had to move homes four times and are in fear of their lives.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Asia of blasphemy on Oct. 31 but the decision sparked protests and death threats against Asia and her family from Islamist groups in the country.
Since her release after an 8-year imprisonment, Asia and her husband Ashiq have reportedly been in a safe place protected by the Pakistan government, while their daughters Eisham and Esha are staying with Joseph Nadeem, a family guardian who has been taking care of the family since Asia was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010.
“We're afraid,” Nadeem told Aid to the Church in Need Nov. 29. “In recent days, the Islamists have fired at the gate of our home. We are constantly receiving threats and on more than one occasion we have been followed.”
Nadeem, whose family is also in danger, said he, his family and Asia’s daughters have had change houses four times. “The Islamists hunt us down and every time we realize that we are in danger we immediately run away. We can't even go and buy food. I only go out at night with my face covered,” he said.
Ashiq has been pleading on his family’s behalf for asylum in the U.K., Italy, U.S. and Canada but so far, no asylum has been granted. Pakistan is preventing Asia from leaving the country, reportedly to help calm the unrest prompted by her release.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wrote Nov. 20 that the United States should deny any aid to Pakistan while Asia Bibi is unable to leave the country, and called on President Trump, who has yet to speak publicly about the case, to personally intervene to grant her asylum. In the U.K., Catholic peer Lord Alton of Liverpool has been pressuring the British government to offer the Bibi family asylum, but British Prime Minister Theresa May has so far refused, saying instead that the government is “working with other countries” to make sure “the safety and security of Asia Bibi and her family, are what is provided for.”
In his comments to Aid to the Church in Need, Nadeem said Asia is aware of the difficult situation and very worried about her daughters, but added that she shows extraordinary faith and strength. “She is an incredible woman,” Nadeem said. “She has kept an unshakable faith and an infinite trust in the Lord. It may seem strange but it is she who supports us in these difficult times,” he added. “She invites us not to be discouraged and says that compared to what she has been through so far, this is only a brief moment that will pass.”
Esha and Eisham have not yet been reunited with their mother, but have spoken to her on the phone and informed her of the global interest that her case has aroused. Nadeem said Eisham was particularly “moved” when she saw her video message broadcast last week at an event that illuminated in red various historical sites in Venice as an act of solidarity with persecuted Christians.
Nadeem has said they are waiting to leave Pakistan for a safe place, adding that Aid to the Church in Need was the first to offer them hospitality. “We hope our two families will be able to spend Christmas together in Rome,” he added.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis today praised the “Shahbaz Bhatti Mission,” an association set up to honor the memory of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic Pakistani politician who supported Asia Bibi and was killed in 2011 for opposing the country’s anti-blasphemy law that had led to Asia’s 8-year imprisonment.
The Pope, who did not specifically mention Asia or the Bibi family in his address, said he hoped the organization’s activities would “extend to those areas of Pakistan where Christians and other minorities are mostly present and, sadly, also discriminated against and made a target of acts of injustice and violence.”