The Pakistani Supreme Court has acquitted Christian mother Asia Bibi in a blasphemy case that has been contested for almost a decade. Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 over a row with neighbors during which she allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad. The court released its stunning decision in Islamabad early Wednesday, despite judges being threatened with death if they ruled in Bibi’s favor.
“Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges,” said Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the astonishingly bold ruling, as reported by the Guardian. But the court’s statement went even further, implying that Bibi had been subject to clear-cut prejudice in her arrest and trial. “It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’,” reads the judgment written by Justice Asif Khosa, “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’.”
Bibi, who has been suffering from ill health, remains in Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail, but will be freed as soon as jail officials receive confirmation of the court order. Her personal safety, however, remains a paramount concern for her friends and relatives.
Just last week, religious hardliners in Pakistan vowed to administer their own justice should Bibi be allowed to go free after. Today, that freedom has become a reality, and, despite it being a moment of utter jubilation, the consequences could be severe. The radical Muslim political party “Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan” (TLP), recently announced that the justices in the case would meet a “horrible” end should they choose to acquit Bibi, according to AFP.
“Western forces are trying to get Asia Bibi out of the country but she should be hanged,” said a former spokesman for Islamabad’s notorious Red Mosque.
Bibi was initially arrested after supposedly entering into an argument with a group of women about a source of drinking water. The Islamist women accused Bibi of drinking from the same tap as them, to which Bibi allegedly responded, “Jesus Christ died for my sins. What did the prophet Muhammad do for you?” a remark which they believed offended their revered religious figure.
However, in the Supreme Court’s final judgment, it declared that the two sisters who accused Bibi “had no regard for the truth,” before adding that “the said semi-literate young sisters had a reason to level allegations against the appellant which could be untrue.”
The landmark judgment also noted that the prosecution’s presented evidence in the case “was nothing short of concoction incarnate.” Due to obvious security concerns for the personal welfare of the judges, paramilitary security forces have deployed across the capital in a bid to protect the court’s officials, as well as to secure the diplomatic zone. In addition, roughly 300 police have been stationed to guard the supreme court, where protests have already erupted.
Pakistan's Supreme Court has behaved superbly by dismissing the case for blasphemy against Asia Bibi. But it's dangerous. Punjab's governor & minorities minister, brave men, were murdered in 2011 after supporting Bibi and calling for reform of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.
— John Simpson (@JohnSimpsonNews) October 31, 2018
Last week, in Pakistan’s second-largest city of Lahore, hundreds of protesters gathered together and chanted “Hang infidel Asia.” Sickeningly, the hashtag #HangAsiaDefend295C was trending among the religious extremists on Twitter, with the 295c referring to “295-C” of Pakistan’s penal code which makes it a criminal offense to blaspheme against the Prophet Muhammad.
According to the Penal Code itself, 295-B refers to the prohibiting of “Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur’an,” and 295-C is in reference to the “use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet.” Other non-Islamic-specific violations contained in Pakistan’s criminal laws include “trespassing on burial places” and “disturbing religious assembly.”
As for Bibi herself, she is understandably stunned by the court’s decision to release her. “I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?” AFP news agency quoted Bibi as saying by phone from her prison cell.
“I will hug her and will cry meeting her,” said her daughter, Eisham Ashiq of the moment she is reunited with her mother. “And I will thank God that He has got her released.”
“We are relieved to hear that the Pakistani Supreme Court has dropped the charges against Asia Bibi—charges that were based simply on her Christian identity and false accusations against her,” said a spokesman for Christian persecution charity Open Doors USA. “This decision gives us hope that Pakistan will take additional steps to increase freedom of religion and human rights in the country.”
We will keep you posted as more details are released on this incredible acquittal.