Pakistan’s supreme court has struck down the death sentence for blasphemy handed down to Christian woman Asia Bibi, in a long-delayed, landmark decision that will free her after nine years on death row and has ignited countrywide protests from Islamist groups.
Christian farm labourer Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of five, was sentenced to hang for blasphemy in 2010. She had angered fellow Muslim farm workers by taking a sip of water from a cup she had fetched for them on a hot day. When they demanded she convert to Islam, she refused, prompting a mob to later allege that she had insulted the prophet Mohammed.
Justice Asif Khosa, in a verdict widely praised for its courage and rigour, noted that the two sisters who accused Bibi “had no regard for the truth” and that the claim she smeared the prophet in public was “concoction incarnate”.
“It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’,” Khosa went on, “but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘more sinned against than sinning’.”
@Patrick, thank you for posting this. This is a disturbing story, but I am comforted by the common ground that we all share in seeking a just world for everyone.
The case against Bibi highlighted two issues with blasphemy laws in Pakistan: how allegations can be used to settle personal scores, and lower-court judges feel unable to acquit defendants for fear of their lives. The supreme court was due to hear Bibi’s appeal in 2016, but delayed the trial after one of the judges recused himself. In 2011, the governor of Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, and the minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, were murdered after they spoke in defence of Bibi and called for reform of blasphemy laws.
Shahbaz Taseer, the son of the murdered governor Salmaan Taseer, told the Guardian: “This is a huge victory for my father, for Pakistan, for the poor, for the judicial system, for every marginalised person in this country.
“I have seen so much in my very short life. I have never seen anything like this. I was released [from five years in Taliban captivity], the same day that Mumtaz Qadri [the killer of his father] was hung. But this is even better than that, this is justice at last.”
With all the protests in Pakistan, it is moving to see a Muslim in Pakistan, celebrate the verdict. His father was murdered for supporting Bibi.