04/30/2018, 16.55
PAKISTAN
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Pakistani Christians pray for Asia Bibi’s release (video)

by Kamran Chaudhry

The prayer was held yesterday in Lahore’s Sacred Heart Cathedral. The appeal of Sawan Masih, who was convicted of blasphemy in 2014, will resume next week. Pakistan’s chief justice will preside the hearing of Asia Bibi’s appeal. The Christian mother has been in prison for nine years.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan's Catholic and Protestant leaders are praying for the release of Asia Bibi, the Christian mother on death row for nine years, and for all the persecuted Christians in the country.

Mgr Joseph Arshad, the archbishop of Islamabad-Rawalpindi and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, was behind the special event, which took place yesterday in Lahore’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.

In a press release issued last week by the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), which the archbishop chairs, he called on the faithful to pray for the victims of religious intolerance. The NCJP statement listed recent cases of blasphemy and violence against Christians.

A banner with the photos of Asia Bibi and three other victims of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws was pasted on the altar of Lahore cathedral.

On 22 April, Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar told Saif ul Malook, Asia Bibi’s lawyer, that he will take up the appeal of the Catholic woman who has been on death row since 2010 for insulting Islam. "Be ready, Saif ul Malook. I am going to fix your case soon and I myself will preside over the bench," he said.

Nadeem Anthony, a Christian lawyer who specialises in blasphemy cases, expressed hope in Pakistan’s top judge. “The present Chief Justice is boldly outspoken and we hope that justice will prevail if the court hears Bibi’s appeal under his leadership. The initial information in her case is false and there is nothing to the case,” he told AsiaNews.

Meanwhile, next week, the Lahore High Court will hear the case of Sawan Masih, who is waiting for his appeal against the death sentenced imposed on him in 2014.

According to Mgr Sebastian Francis Shaw, archbishop of Lahore, most of the Christians accused of blasphemy are innocent.

Speaking at yesterday’s gathering, he said, “We gather here with grief to pray for freedom of Christians who are persecuted for their faith.”

He went to say that, “Usually the committees set up by the state to probe these allegations only cloud the real issues. Perhaps it’s time to challenge the state”.

During the prayer meeting, Archbishop Shaw, five Catholic priests and six Protestant pastors lit candles, sang hymns and prayed for Asia Bibi and other jailed Christians.

“This is not the first time we sit together with a broken heart. It is a shame that the faithful are slicing each others’ throats to become superior,” said Church of Pakistan Bishop Emeritus of Peshawar, Mano Rumalshah.

“We need to cross the barriers of different missions and Churches,” said the elderly prelate. “We have become old knocking at the doors of government, which takes no action and only gives temporary consolation.”

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