Archbishop's message delivered by Bishop Tony Robinson in Wakefield Cathedral
Friday 17th December 2010A message from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was read out by the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop of Pontefract, at a special service in Wakefield Cathedral.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
May the Peace and Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
Today we bring before God and before the world, our concern for, and solidarity with Asia Bibi, a victim of the blasphemy legislation in Pakistan. Our concern extends to her husband, her two daughters, and other family members and to all our Christian brothers and sisters in Pakistan. The steadfastness of her Christian faith and her trust in our Lord Jesus Christ is an inspiration and witness to Christians and people of goodwill around the world.
I have been following with deep concern the many severe challenges faced by the government and people of Pakistan, particularly since my visit to that country five years ago.
So much suffering and so many deaths from earthquake, floods and terror have been the lot of the people of Pakistan whether Muslim, Christian or other communities, and we bring this in prayer before God commending especially those who work for peace and justice and the relief of suffering.
Prominent amongst those who suffer and those who work for the relief of suffering are the Christian community, loyal citizens of Pakistan, but with others, daily on the receiving end of discrimination, injustice and violence. And this, notwithstanding their disproportionate contribution to the education, health and welfare of Pakistani people of all religions.
Their particular sufferings are rooted in legislation and in attitudes which grew in the time of the military dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq and which have no place either in the vision of Jinnah nor in the present day aspirations of Pakistan to be at the heart of the democratic family of nations in which human rights are respected and full religious freedom is available to all.
Amongst the legislation which lies at the heart of so much violence and oppression are the laws concerning blasphemy and defamation which were so notoriously extended to include 295 B and C of the Penal Code and to provide for the death penalty.
It is these provisions which have been so abused as to seriously damage the reputation of Pakistan and of Islam in so many minds around the world. It is these provisions which have led to the atrocities at Gojra last year and to the appalling sufferings and death of so many individuals and their families accused under them.
I have discussed these matters in recent years with the President of Pakistan, with the Minister for Minorities and through representatives and in correspondence with many Ministers of the Government of Pakistan. I repeat today my call for reform and amendment of the blasphemy legislation and for the proper protection of accused and their families. I call upon the guardians of the sharia to repudiate the Islamic validity of this legislation and its penalties and I hope that Muslim friends in this country and around the world will show their solidarity with Asia Bibi and others who suffer in the same way.
We are reminded today of all those who have suffered so deeply through the abuse of the blasphemy legislation and also of the very many brothers and sisters around the world who are persecuted because of their faith. We offer them to the loving mercy of Almighty God and pray for their deliverance.