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Asia Bibi: “I was granted my freedom through Jesus”

She spent a decade on death row in Pakistan for a blasphemy charge. Now Asia Bibi has released her first video from exile, in which she urged Christians worldwide to remain faithful to their beliefs no matter the cost.

Asia Bibi, 54, whose 10-year imprisonment drew condemnation from government leaders worldwide, filmed a video that emerged Saturday on social media. With the camera pointed toward the ground to hide her face, Bibi thanked Jesus for her freedom, in the first-ever recording of her voice, and maintained her innocence of the crime for which she was punished.

“I, Asia Bibi, daughter of Salamat Masih, believe in Jesus,” Bibi said. “And today, I want to declare one thing to the world: that I had not done anything wrong to deserve what I suffered for 10 years. I was a prisoner on death row, I was accused of blasphemy, so I was granted my freedom through Jesus and I never let my belief weaken.”

An illiterate field hand, Bibi and her family were the only Christians in her small village near Lahore, Pakistan, when she was thrown into prison in 2009. Bibi recounted in a 2011 interview from jail that her ordeal began when she was picking berries with other village women, who looked down on her for not being a Muslim. Bibi obliged when they asked her to bring them water on the hot summer day, but they refused to drink after her because her religion had made the cup “unclean.”

In the ensuing argument, the other women demanded she convert to Islam, to which Bibi responded, “What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”

Bibi languished in a small prison cell for nearly 10 years because of her statement, accused of blaspheming the prophet of Islam, which is a capital offense in Pakistan.

Her case roiled the Islamic republic over the years, leading to the assassinations of two government leaders and an attempted coup by a radical cleric.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan ultimately threw out the case against Bibi in October 2018 and again in January, but political chaos in response to the court’s decision trapped Bibi in the country until May. She at last fled to Canada to join her two daughters, who had already obtained asylum.

Even in her freedom, Bibi’s thoughts remain with Pakistan and those imprisoned there for blasphemy, of whom there are 77, according to a U.S. State Department estimate. “The people who are on death row on blasphemy charges, please think positively about them,” she said in her video, and encouraged others to visit them. In her first newspaper interview last month with the Telegraph, Bibi remembered, “When my daughters visited me in jail, I never cried in front of them, but when they went after meeting me in jail, I used to cry alone filled with pain and grief. I used to think about them all the time, how they are living.”

“My belief is strong enough that I want to request … do not stray far from your beliefs,” Bibi admonished. “To all the world, please stay true to your beliefs. Even if you have to face the sword, please hold firm to your faith.”

In part because of Bibi’s case, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned a report last December on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts to address anti-Christian persecution worldwide. Released Easter, the report found that “persecution on grounds of religious faith is a global phenomenon that is growing in scale and intensity.”