After years of prayers and campaigning, Asia Bibi has been allowed to leave the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and is now reunited with her family who fled to Canada. She is finally free.

The ordeal of this humble farm labourer with four children began a decade ago, in June 2009, with an argument over a bucket of water, which was deemed unclean by a group of Muslim women after Asia drank from it. In the row that ensued Asia was accused of making offensive remarks about Muhammad, the founder of Islam. 

After being beaten up by a mob at her home, her accusers said that she had confessed to blasphemy. This led to an investigation by the police, which was dubious, and resulted in Asia being arrested and charged in 2010 under the now infamous blasphemy laws of Pakistan. Following her conviction and death sentence, she languished in prison until her acquittal in 2018

Despite calls by Islamist groups in January this year to reject her exoneration being dismissed, Asia needed to be hidden in a secret location for her own protection due to the number of death threats she had received. During this time in hiding, many organisations including the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Alliance campaigned for her to be able to leave the country for her own safety. After months of international pressure, Asia was finally freed from Pakistan on Wednesday, 8 May 2019.


There is no doubt that Asia’s story has helped to highlight the suffering of the Christian minority in Pakistan, who now only constitute 1.6 per cent of the population. Her fight for freedom has also exposed the fact that there remains strong public support for the blasphemy laws – laws which, with little evidence, are increasingly used to exact revenge or extort money from minority groups, including the Ahmadi Muslim community.

As Christians continue to flee the country, often to live as refugees in horrendous conditions in places such as Thailand, it is hoped that the media coverage that has attended Asia’s case will be sustained, and that the many others in Pakistan who are imprisoned and persecuted for their faith will receive justice and relief.

Millions more

We rejoice at Asia’s release, yet sadly her story has become emblematic of the plight of Christians in many countries where Islam is the prevailing religion, and has highlighted what journalist John L. Allen has called ‘[The] global war on Christians’ when writing in The Spectator in 2013. Although this phenomenon has been a blind spot’ for most Western politicians and journalists, there are signs that the sustained campaigning on cases such as Asia’s may be prompting some action.

Recently, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned the Bishop of Truro to conduct a review into the global persecution of Christians. The final report from this review is due in the summer and will help inform the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s activities in the years ahead. In the meantime, the interim report has caused a considerable stir, not least because it has described what is happening as genocide” – a deliberate and systematic attempt to exterminate Christians.

The report highlights that Christianity is by far the most persecuted religion on earth, with research showing that in 2016 Christians were targeted in 144 countries – a rise from 125 in 2015. It also refers to the Open Doors 2019 World Watch List report on anti-Christian oppression, which reveals that approximately 245 million Christians living in the top 50 countries suffer high levels of persecution or worse”, a staggering 30 million up on the previous year.

But what can we, as Christians in the West, learn from Asia’s experience? And what can we do about this oppression and injustice? Sometimes it feels like the sheer scale of what’s happening to God’s people across the globe is overwhelming. Incidents like the slaughter of 120 people in Nigeria in March and the appalling attacks on churches in Sri Lanka at Easter are now sadly common occurrences. In the face of such unremitting horrors we can feel helpless, unable to make a difference. But we need to have faith in God and believe that our prayers and our actions can effect change – because they can.

Here are a few ways in which we really can make a difference. First, we can take courage from the courage shown by our brothers and sisters who are suffering for Jesus across the world. The grace which people such as Asia often demonstrate under extreme pressure should be both humbling and inspiring to those of us in the West who have become accustomed to living out our faith in relative security and comfort.

Such stories are an inspiration to us to count our blessings and also to count the cost of following Christ. They should also spur us to keep a perspective on our own experiences and understand that, whilst we may well be experiencing marginalisation in the UK, we are most certainly not being persecuted for our faith. Unless conditions change for us, it is important to keep this perspective because it honours the many who are experiencing real persecution.

And let’s not forget that, despite our circumstances, being in Christ’ means that we are victors not victims. As Paul humbly noted of his own considerable sufferings: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17)

Second, we should be inspired to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. This is our core mission and also, no doubt, a primary reason for the global war on Christians’. The growth of evangelical/​Pentecostal Christianity in every continent of the world, and the accompanying persecution of God’s people, are not a coincidence.

This is happening because the gospel is reaching and saving more and more people, and the kingdom of God is coming, which is not good news for the enemy. However, despite his best efforts to intimidate and silence us, in faith our response should be to keep calm and carry on’, proclaiming Jesus as the risen Son of the living God – Lord and Saviour of the world.

Third, although Asia’s story is distressing, the fact that she is now free shows that our prayers and our campaigning work. We should be encouraged by her freedom to be more faithful in prayer for our brothers and sisters who are suffering for the name of Jesus.

We should also be inspired to get involved in the wonderful work of organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors and Release International. This work is important, not just for Christians, because the gospel is synonymous with freedom. It is not only good news for the souls set free, but also for the societies set free.

This is because the religious freedom which it both demands and extends is the foundation for all our other human rights and civil liberties. So, we should keep praying, speaking up, writing to our MPs, and campaigning for the persecuted church. Because Jesus is – quite literally – the hope of the nations.

We worked with the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship to develop Speak Up, a resource that will help you to share your faith with confidence and knowledge of your current legal freedoms. Visit www​.eauk​.org/​w​h​a​t​-​w​e​-​d​o​/​i​n​i​t​i​a​t​i​v​e​s​/​s​p​e​ak-up to find out more.