Pastors John Sherwood and Peter Simpson, with the help of Sister Eve Hammond, preached outside of the House of Commons yesterday in order to publicise the plight of Asia Bibi in Pakistan, who, whilst having been acquitted of the blasphemy charge against her, is still not being allowed to leave the country. The Pakistani Government is also considering a petition from Muslim hardliners challenging the acquittal verdict instead of just letting her go. This means that Asia is still in great danger.
The preaching in Westminster focused on the civil and religious liberties prevailing in the UK (and also much enjoyed by those of other faiths who have settled in this country), and pointed out how these liberties were so much due to the influence of the Christian gospel. It was the Bible-believing Oliver Cromwell, for example, who had challenged the absolute power of the monarchy and fostered the development of Parliamentary democracy. UK religious freedom was then contrasted with the appalling treatment of Asia Bibi, who has suffered for 9 years in a Pakistani jail for the ‘crime’ of defending her Christian faith to her Muslim neighbours.
The preaching also emphasised that the UK Government has not offered asylum to Asia Bibi, despite her Christian faith with which this country has a natural cultural, as well as direct constitutional, affinity. In contrast to this refusal of asylum to a Christian, the Government has allowed 400 jihadists to return to the UK, even setting in place plans to give them council houses, along with other terror suspects, in order to help them ‘integrate’ (see Daily Mail, 29/10/17).
Many passers-by took photographs of our specially prepared posters, the wording of which included, ‘Pakistan must repeal its blasphemy law and treat Christians as equal citizens’ and ‘Pakistan must allow Asia to leave the country, must stop abusing Christians, and must repeal its notorious blasphemy law’.
Many will be aware that Asia Bibi is a Roman Catholic, but despite our rejection of the false and un-Biblical doctrines of the RC Church, it is beyond dispute that Asia has suffered courageously for her faith in Christ, having spoken to her Muslim neighbours about Jesus dying for the sins of the world. In other words, her defence of her faith was Biblical and evangelical.
Asia could have renounced Christianity and embraced Islam in order to secure her release, but she chose not to. She was arrested, not for defending the Pope or Mary, but the substitutionary death of Christ in contrast to the work of Mohammed. Therefore on the grounds of 2 Timothy 2:12 and Hebrews 13:3 we should regard her as being “in the body”.
In the afternoon we moved on to the Pakistani High Commission in Knightsbridge, where we joined the protest rally organised by Citizengo and the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA). A gathering of around 100 people made known their grave sense of injustice at the ongoing plight of Asia Bibi, even though she has been formally acquitted, namely her inability to leave the country and yet a further challenge to her legal status, even though she has already been cleared by Pakistan’s court of final appeal.
Those who addressed the gathering of protestors included Baroness Cox, Christian Voice Director, Stephen Green, Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, and Nassir Hussein, who has had to flee from his home in Bradford and move to a secret location because of years of persecution from members of the Muslim community here in England who resent his conversion from Islam to Christianity. This persecution has included serious physical harm to his person.
The case of Asia Bibi is not just an isolated one. Many other Christians are enduring appalling difficulties for their faith in Christ in Pakistan. The protests following the news of Asia’a acquittal, and which called for her death, were not carried out by just a tiny minority of extremists, but by many hundreds of thousands of people around the country, affecting the major cities of Peshawar, Multan, Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. Does this not suggest that those who desire her execution are not just a small rump of ‘Islamists’, but a more general cross section of society?
Asia’s case also reminds us that converts to Christ from Islam are not even safe here in the UK.