Pakistani Christians to Pray for Peace, Asia Bibi's Release

Christians, human rights activists and representatives from other religions are being called by the Catholic Church of Pakistan to participate in a "day of prayer and fasting" on Sunday.

The event is a response to plans by Islamic fundamentalists to campaign against any amendment to the Muslim nation's controversial blasphemy laws, and for the death of convicted Christian mother of five Asia Bibi.

However, the Day of Prayer is intended to serve as a peaceful response to the intensifying, and often violent rallies led by radical Islamic groups in defense of the laws.

"We Christians do not wish to react nor respond to the provocations, instead to pray and fast, placing the difficulties that the country is experiencing in God's hands," Father John Shakir Nadeem, secretary for social communications for the Episcopal Conference, told Fides News Agency.

All churches in Pakistan will join in prayer for the nation to find "peace and harmony" and for Bibi's freedom.

Bishop Anthony Rufin of Islamabad-Rawalpindi called the day a "critical time for Christians in Pakistan," while appealing for all Christians to participate, AsiaNews reported.

Meanwhile, the president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan, Naveed Walter, is also urging for global support.

"We appeal to all Christians, Non-Government Organizations, human rights activists and political workers to take part in this peaceful protest … so that this day will become 'the voice' against the persecution of Christians in Pakistan," he said.

Since Bibi's blasphemy case drew international attention from various human rights groups and world leaders including Pope Benedict XVI, many calls have been made for the abolishment of the blasphemy laws, where the guilty faces punishments ranging from a simple fine to the death penalty.

But the pressure has stirred up Islamic activists across Pakistan. Multiple protests led by Islamic political parties have already taken place, including a gathering of thousands in Peshawar and Faisalabad last Sunday.

The demonstrations continue despite Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's announcement earlier this month that he has no intention of changing the law.

The conflict also prompted the assassination of Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer on Jan. 4 by a member of his security team who was against Taseer's support for Bibi and his opposition to the blasphemy laws.

Bibi remains locked up and under constant danger, given the amount of death threats received. She is accused of blaspheming against Islamic Prophet Muhammad and was handed the death sentence by a court of sessions in Punjab province last November. She is expected to soon begin appeal of her case. Her legal representatives have requested that the hearing take place within prison walls, fearing the possibility of a summary execution if she were to make an appearance in the High Court of Lahore.

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