Pakistan Supreme Court acquits Asia Bibi from blasphemy charges after eight years of confinement

Saturday, November 3, 2018

On Wednesday, the Pakistani Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi from blasphemy charges. Asia Bibi is a Christian who was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010 and remained in confinement on death row for the past eight years awaiting a final decision, reportedly much of it in solitary confinement.

Headed by the Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, the bench composed of three judges ruled the prosecution "categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt" and Bibi was freed from the charges. In the 56-page-long decision, the Supreme Court said, "This appeal is allowed. The judgements of the High Court, as well as the Trial Court, are reversed. Consequently, the conviction as also the sentence of death awarded to the appellant is set aside and she is acquitted of the charge".

In 2009, two Muslim women accused Bibi of defaming Islamic prophet Mohammed. Bibi was arrested under 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code after local cleric Qari Mohammad Salaam registered a formal complaint against Bibi. Blasphemy against Islam is punishable by death or by life imprisonment. Bibi's case was appealed in the Supreme Court after Lahori High Court upheld her conviction in 2014.

Following the verdict, a Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) leader, Afzal Qadri, said "[The judges] who have ordered the release of the accursed Asia [Bibi] are all liable to be killed under religious edict". Demonstrations broke out in various cities across the country after the verdict. Another leader of TLP, Khadim Rizvi, said he would "paralyse the country within hours" if Bibi was acquitted and set free.

A main high-way in Pakistan's capital Islamabad and several roads in Karachi and Punjab province's capital Lahore were obstructed by supporters of TLP and other religious groups sparking disordered traffic jams. Per the local reports, governments of three provinces — Balochistan, Punjab, and Sindh— had imposed section 144 which prevented gathering of more than four people in public. Section 144 was imposed till November 10.

The verdict of Bibi's case was welcomed by Amnesty International. South Asia director deputy Omar Waraich said, "Justice has finally prevailed. The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country's most vulnerable minorities". Christians account for about one and a half percent of the population of Pakistan. In 2010, then Catholic Pope Benedict XVI called for Bibi's release.

Regarding the blockades in various cities and the threats against the judges, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the public via TV broadcast and said, "Which government can function when people say that kill the judges, rebel against the army chief? [...] If the Supreme Court does not issue a verdict according to their wishes, does that mean they will come out on the roads and paralyse the country?"

Prime Minister Imran Khan also said, "They are inciting you for their own political gain, you should not get trapped by them for the sake of the country, they are doing no service to Islam [...] We will protect people's properties and lives, we will not allow any sabotage, we will not allow any traffic to be stopped". He supported the Supreme Court decision and said it was "according to the constitution [of Pakistan] and Pakistan's constitution is according to the teachings of Islam".

After the verdict was announced, Bibi told Agence France-Presse, "I can't believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?"