Washington D.C., Jul 14, 2021 / 17:01 pm (CNA).
Asia Bibi, a Christian woman once sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy in Pakistan but eventually freed, now wants to be a voice for Christians around the world.
Bibi, who addressed the International Religious Freedom Summit on Wednesday via a video message from Canada, expressed her gratitude for people who worked to secure her release from prison, and thanked God for her release.
“From the bottom of my heart I am very thankful to the Lord, who has rescued me from my sufferings and difficulties,” said Bibi in an address that was translated into English. “He has given me a fresh start and the opportunity to start a new life with my family.”
Now safe in Canada, Bibi said that she “wants to be a voice for Christian people, Christians in prison, and in difficulties.”
Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death, following an incident in 2009.
Bibi said that while working in a field, another person saw her drinking water from a cup previously used by Muslims, and informed her it was improper for a Christian to use that cup. An argument ensued, and Bibi was reported to a Muslim cleric five days later for her supposed blasphemy. Bibi and her family were the only Christians residing in the area, and had faced pressure to convert to Islam.
She was sentenced to death by hanging for alleged blasphemy. Pakistan’s penal code criminalizes speech that insults or defiles the state religion of Islam, but it is often used against religious minorities and many accusations are reportedly false. Pakistan has among the strictest blasphemy laws in the world, as one of only four countries with the death penalty for blasphemy.
Bibi immediately appealed her death sentence, but the Lahore High Court upheld her conviction in 2014. She then appealed to the country’s Supreme Court, and was acquitted in 2018. She was then granted refugee status in Canada and moved there in May 2019 with her family.
“When I was in prison, I was very worried about my children and husband,” said Bibi. “I was not aware where they were and whether they were safe or not.”
“At the same time, I had a hope in the Lord,” said Bibi. “Thanks to all of the brothers and sisters who prayed and fasted. Because of their prayers, I am now free.”
Bibi explained that her “Christian brothers and sisters worked very hard for my freedom,” and said that she is “very thankful to everyone from the bottom of my heart.”
“Let us join hands and stand together so we can be a voice for our Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering, and help them out of their situations,” she said. “Like the Lord did for me.”
At the beginning of the video, Bibi described what her life was like in Pakistan prior to her arrest and blasphemy conviction. She said that some of her happiest memories from her village in Pakistan were celebrating Easter and Christmas with her family.
Pakistan enforced its blasphemy laws 184 times from January 2014 through December 2018, the highest number of any country in the world, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In 2020, there were reportedly 30 Christians jailed on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, including seven on death row. The country has not yet executed anyone for blasphemy