Today, Pakistani Christian mother Asia Bibi was handed her life back when the Supreme Court threw out her almost decade-old conviction for blasphemy. Sentenced to hang in 2010, the noose was tightening around her neck as Islamist radicals heaped pressure on the judges to “Hang Infidel Asia.”
But those judges, putting their lives on the line, refused to bow to such violent pressure, weighed the case on its merit and decided there was zero evidence of the crime.
The ruling was simple and to the point:
“The appeal is allowed. She has been acquitted. The judgement of high court as well as trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside.”
Asia Bibi is free.
But that is certainly not the end of this story. Bibi, and many in the justice system that played a role in her acquittal, remain in grave danger as hard-line political groups continue to reel from the landmark decision. Bibi’s lawyer was spotted shortly after the verdict, flanked by armed police officers and only able to squeeze out a brief remark.
“Happy,” he said, despite being terrified for the safety of both himself and his embattled client.
And though their joy must be lofty, there is adequate reason for them to be afraid.
In 2011, shortly after Bibi’s conviction, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was brutally murdered for speaking out in support of the wrongly convicted Christian woman. Shot dead on the streets of Islamabad, his own bodyguard was found guilty of the heinous crime and, though sentenced to death himself, he has since become a cult hero with a large shrine in his honor erected on the outskirts of the capital city.
Just two months later, Christian politician and outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also assassinated — shot dead by the Pakistani Taliban as he traveled to work.
Shortly before his death, and while subject to imminent threats to his life, he released a powerful statement:
“I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us, and I am ready to die for a cause,” he said. “I’m living for my community … and I will die to defend their rights.”
Just last week, religious hardliners in Pakistan vowed to administer their own justice should Bibi be allowed to go free. 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.
— Umer Jawaed (@umerjawaed) October 31, 2018
“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.
Now, there are calls for Bibi to be granted emergency asylum in the United States.
“The sharia penalty for blasphemy is death, and it’s clear that the angry mob intends to execute the ‘justice’ that Pakistan’s court thankfully refused,” tweeted journalist and The Federalist contributor, Benjamin Weingarten. “Asia Bibi truly deserves asylum — her life depends on it.”
BREAKING: For years, the @ACLJ has advocated for the release of #Pakistani #Christian mother #AsiaBibi. This is a major victory – Asia is free from prison. As we celebrate, remember to pray for the safety of Asia Bibi, her family, & those who set her free: https://t.co/pcUvInFBxN pic.twitter.com/BSLWSe49rc
— Jay Sekulow (@JaySekulow) October 31, 2018
Bibi was initially arrested after supposedly entering into an argument with a group of women about a source of drinking water. The Muslim 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.
Protests break out in parts of Karachi , Lahore & Islamabad after Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted a #Christian woman #AsiaBibi.
She had been earlier sentenced to death for blasphemy. pic.twitter.com/bPttbRQvlr
— Baloch? (@ASJBaloch) October 31, 2018
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.”
Massive Protests Against Pakistan SC Decision to overturn Asia Bibi’s Death Conviction – May God help this poor lady to come out of the country safely! pic.twitter.com/8dZHazIVaK
— Tahir Aslam Gora (@TahirGora) October 31, 2018
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.
Veteran BBC foreign affairs Correspondent, John Simpson, noted that the situation remained extremely dangerous for Bibi and her supporters.
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.
Labbaik goons protesting over #AsiaBibi's acquittal across Pakistan. What are they protesting over? For a poor Christian mother of 5 was kept away from her family for 9 years? For being accused and incarcerate for a false #blasphemy charge she never committed? Go on and protest. pic.twitter.com/fIjz94meMq
— Naila Inayat (@nailainayat) October 31, 2018
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.”
Pray for Asia Bibi, her family and supporters as their figure out a way to escape the clutches of those who would seek to bring them harm.