Warm houses, dinner with family and friends, presents exchanged, carols and readings at church – for many of us this is what Christmas Day is about. But for Aasia Bibi this day of joyous celebration will again be spent in solitary confinement. The Christian mother-of-five from Pakistan has been on death row for over six years after becoming the first woman to be convicted under the country’s “blasphemy laws”.
This year there was a glimmer of hope that perhaps, for the first time since 2008, Aasia Bibi would spend Christmas with her family. Her appeal in Pakistan’s Supreme Court was due to be heard on 13 October but, moments after starting, one of the judges declared that he was not in a positon to hear the case and the appeal was adjourned.
Baroness Cox, who is a patron of Barnabas Fund, said, “The case of Asia Bibi is precisely the reason why I continue to fight for religious minorities around the world.” She added, “Only those of us in open and free societies can be a voice to the voiceless and Christmas is the perfect season for us to renew our appeal for humanity and tolerance.”
Whilst Aasia Bibi’s lawyers believe they have a strong defence, the vociferous support for her death penalty means the case is on a knife-edge – upholding the sentence will result in international condemnation of Pakistan and tighten the grip of Islamisation in the country, whilst exonerating Aasia Bibi would probably lead to riots and leave her, together with her family, legal team and even the wider Christian population, at grave risk of vigilante violence by Muslim hardliners.
It seems an impossible situation. But as the Christmas story reminds us, there is always room for hope. When Mary was told the surprising news by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to a son, she asked, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” The angel explained, concluding, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:34–37).
We do not know how Aasia Bibi’s situation will unfold, but we do know that she will not be alone this Christmas, for the greatest gift of all – Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23) – sits with her in her prison cell. We also know that “nothing is impossible with God” and so we pray that – against all seeming impossibility – this time next year Aasia Bibi and her family will once again be reunited to celebrate Christmas together.
Barnabas Fund provides ongoing support for Aasia Bibi’s family with the supply of a monthly food parcel. Earlier this year, we also helped purchase a home for the family. “Thank you very much, Barnabas Fund, for the help,” her husband said. “I can now safely live here with my children.” Most recently a grant was sent to fund the installation of a gas supply to the home.