05/24/2011, 00.00
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After Bin Laden’s death, Asia Bibi’s prison security tightened

by Jibran Khan
The president of the Masihi Foundation confirms that security has been tightened around the Catholic mother sentenced to death for blasphemy. Her faith remains strong. She prays and fasts for Pakistan and Pakistani Christians. The “worst type of extremism” is developing in the country.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Security measures around Asia Bibi have been tightened in the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Ms Bibi is the 45-year-old mother of five who was sentenced to death for blasphemy, Haroon Barkat Masih told AsiaNews. He is the president of the Masihi Foundation, a human rights organisation that is providing Ms Bibi with legal counsel. The latter is in the women’s wing of Sheikhupura Prison (near Lahore, Punjab) and is under constant threat from Muslim extremists. Still, her faith is strong and she has not lost hope of being freed soon. She is in fact praying and regularly fasting despite her weak physical and vulnerable condition.

The Asia Bibi affair has moved Western governments and many organisations around the world. Back in November, during a Wednesday general audience, Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the Pakistani government to release her and abolish the ‘black law’. All 736 Members of the European Parliament signed a petition, asking Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to change the law.

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, spoke out on her behalf. For that reason and for demanding changes to the blasphemy provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code, both men were assassinated in January and March respectively by people close to Muslim extremist groups and Pakistani Taliban.

Held in prison amid huge security measures, Ms Bibi is under constant death threats from Muslim extremists. Yusef Qureshi, a Peshawar imam, offered a reward of 500,000 rupees (almost US$ 6,000) for her death. Many extremist groups have expressed support for the Muslim religious leader, hoping for Bibi’s murder. After two years on death row, she has been in isolation for the past few weeks.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Haroon Barkat Masih, head of Masihi Foundation, said that Asia Bibi “is waiting patiently in her cell. She is weak and vulnerable but regularly fasting and praying for Pakistan and the country’s Christians. Despite her situation, she remains hopeful and firm in her unshakable faith” in Christ.

For the head of the Masihi Foundation, security measures have been boosted following the killing of Bin laden, who died during a raid carried out by US Special Forces in Pakistan on 2 May.

Speaking about the country’s overall situation, he said that the “worst type of extremism” is developing, affecting people and social groups once thought to be “moderate”.

“Asia Bibi has had health problems,” he explained. “She remains in isolation and cooks her own food” to avoid poisoning. Her husband visits her regularly.

Her daily routine involves “prayers and reading the Bible. Her family is anxiously waiting to bring her home.”

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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”