01/18/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Punjab: Asia Bibi to move to a women’s prison in Multan

by Jibran Khan
The transfer should occur within seven days. The step has become necessary to protect the life of the 45-year-old Christian mother of five because of death threats from Muslim fundamentalists. A Pakistani priest hopes the transfer will be done secretly to ensure maximum security. AsiaNews’ campaign on Bibi’s behalf has reached 8,700 signatures.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges, may be moved to Multan Prison, an all-women facility, due to security concerns. The Christian community expressed their concern to the authorities that the 45-year-old mother of five may not be safe in Sheikhupura Prison (Punjab) because of constant death threats from extremists around the country.

Asia’s husband Ashiq Masih also appealed to the authorities to improve her security, who explicitly said her life was in danger.

Similarly, Ministry of Interior asked the Punjab government to increase security for Asia Bibi in Sheikhupura Jail.

An official report released on 11 January by the provincial intelligence agency said, “The severity of threat to the life of Asia Bibi spiked after the assassination of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer”. The late governor had expressed his support for the Christian woman and had called for changes to the blasphemy law.

The report also noted that “the provincial government is yet to take effective security measures. [. . .] Just one lady warden has been assigned to her inside the jail and five police constables deputed to secure the jail’s perimeter, along with two motorcycle squads assigned to patrol the jail periphery.” What is more, the guards assigned to her “are not vigilant and most of the times [. . .] are absent”.

In fact, Sheikhpura Prison superintendent Khalid Sheikh is aware of the situation. “I have received directives from the Punjab Home Department to shift Asia from Sheikhupura district jail to an all-women jail in Multan, as her life is in danger in Sheikhpura jail,” he said.

Her transfer is expected to take place under heavy security within the next seven days.

If she is moved to the Multan All-Women’s Prison, the Christian woman will wait out for her appeal case in Lahore High Court. So far, she has spent much of her time talking to female prison guards, catching up with the news from a television and reading an Urdu Bible.

She is not a fluent reader, said Father Obed Robert, a local priest who regularly visits her and supports her family, but during her months of incarceration she had taken particular comfort from the words of John, Chapter 14, Verse 1, which says: "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me."

Fr Andrew Nisari, a senior spokesman for the Catholic archdiocese of Lahore, told AsiaNews, “It is good that Asia is being shifted, but the transfer should be kept confidential as the extremists are vigilantly looking for an opportunity to kill Asia Bibi, she should be flown in a helicopter as the matter is extremely serious."

In the meantime, the AsiaNews campaign in favour of Asia Bibi’s release has reached 8,700 signatures. Anyone who wants to sign up can write to salviamoasiabibi@asianews.it.

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