Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother who has remained in prison since she was accused of blasphemy and arrested in 2010, has forgiven her persecutors and expressed hope that this holiday season, Jesus will "grant peace" to the "whole world."
According to a report by Paolo Affatato in the Italian newspaper La Stampa, Bibi, 50, told the family who visited her in prison on Christmas Eve: "Christmas is the celebration of God's mercy. I forgive my persecutors, those who have falsely accused me, and I await their forgiveness."
The mother-of-five continued, "Jesus made this happy day for me and has accepted my prayers. I'm excited and full of joy in meeting today my family and celebrate Christmas with you."
Although a devout Christian, Bibi extended warm wishes to Muslims as well, as Christmas is also a festival day those who adhere to the Islamic faith.
"Today is also the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Peace be upon him, on this day. Honestly, I could never even think of disrespect. But, although I have been in prison for seven years, I do not hate those who did me wrong," she said. "I pray that the Holy Prophet Muhammad will bestow wisdom on his followers so that peace can go on being built around the world. I pray that Jesus Christ will grant peace to the whole world."
As reported by the Gospel Herald, Bibi was sent to prison six years ago and sentenced to death after she was accused of breaking the country's strict blasphemy laws. Her arrest occurred after she got into an argument with a group of Muslim women over a water supply, and asked them, "My Christ died for me, what did Muhammed do for you?"
In July, Bibi's death sentence was temporarily suspended, and she is now waiting for Pakistan's Supreme Court to decide her fate. In concluding her Christmas message, Bibi pleaded for prayers from Christians worldwide that the Supreme Court find in her favor.
In October, Mission Network News reported that sources from the ALIVE network of churches gained insight into the shocking conditions at the women's block in Multan Jail, where Bibi is being held.
According to MNN, those individuals found that the building "does not have any system of cross ventilation."
"There are sets of two beds placed on one another in a vertical manner to double the capacity. There are a total of 6 unhygienic toilets which are, in the words of a former prisoner, 'not sufficient for the number of inmates,'" the report added.
Although the prison block has a capacity of 30-40 prisoners, nearly 150 inmates are being detained there.
"Multan's summers are extremely hot," said a former prisoner. "Combine this with overcrowding, poor sanitation, heating, lighting, and ventilation in the jail, and you realize the hell hole where Asia's single cell is located."
Bibi, along with the other prisoners, is also required to sit before the Quran for hours and read the Islamic holy text. They have been told that if they praise Allah and ask for forgiveness, their sentence will be reduced.
"It is not just the sound of the five times of prayer that Asia is surrounded by. Every waking hour she hears the wailing of broken and often mentally disturbed women mixed with the sound of the Quran being read out loud. Prison is no quiet place," the report continued.
Pakistan is ranked #8 on the Open Doors 2015 World Watch List of countries where the persecution of Christians is most extreme.
"In Pakistan and abroad, Aasiya (Asia) has become a symbol of suffering for one's faith," an ALIVE worker told persecution watchdog Open Doors. "She is not just another victim lacerated by Pakistan's hatred and injustice towards a broken and beaten community. She is a symbol for a community which pays for its faith with its mothers, wives, fathers, husbands and children. The rage and brutality against Pakistani Christians continues today."
She added: "The question on most people's mind is 'why does God allow this to happen?' For me, the purpose is clear. Aasiya is a symbol for all Christians, both in Pakistan and internationally; she is a living example of the need to come to the Lord in prayer. Our ALIVE teams feel deeply invested in cases like Aasiya's. We have been raising prayer support for Aasiya for many years and have been encouraging local Christians to take the lead in praying for their sister in prison."