The Supreme Court of Pakistan has ruled that its acquittal of Christian mother Asia Bibi will be upheld. The mother of five was originally convicted of blasphemy back in 2010 before being sentenced to death by hanging. However, in October of last year, the highest court in Pakistan determined that there was no factual basis for the accusations leveled against Bibi and overturned her conviction.
Since then, radical Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), has been petitioning the court to reconsider one last time. The Supreme Court has made it very clear with this final ruling: Asia Bibi must be set free.
“Based on merit, this petition is dismissed,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosar said in court on Tuesday, as reported by the BBC.
Bibi was reportedly being holed up in a safe house somewhere in the capital city of Islamabad as she awaited the final decision. There is also speculation that her two daughters have already escaped to Canada. Now, it is thought that Bibi will flee the country at the earliest possible opportunity to evade those who still want to see her dead.
You are free; you are free to run away from this country. #AsiaBibi
— Naila Inayat नायला इनायत (@nailainayat) January 29, 2019
“She deserves to be murdered according to Shariah,” said Hafiz Ehtisham Ahmed, an Islamist activist affiliated with the extremist Red Mosque in Islamabad, according to the Guardian. “If she goes abroad, don’t Muslims live there? If she goes out of Pakistan … anybody can kill her there.”
High-ranked leaders in TLP stirred up such a furore following Bibi’s acquittal that much of the country came to a standstill. However, despite TLP’s acting head, Shafeeq Ameeni, sending a personal warning to the Supreme Court to not protect the “blasphemer,” the judges held their nerve.
Furthermore, protests against the ruling have been largely stunted due to the fact that many of the instigators are being held in custody following a government crackdown on extremism.
According to the Independent, Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, returned to Pakistan on Tuesday for the final proceedings. He had previously fled to the Netherlands after threats were made against his life.
What is the background?
Bibi was initially arrested back in 2009 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.”
“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,’” read 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.'”
The radicals, however, have remained bloodthirsty from the very day Bibi was arrested.
Prior to her acquittal, 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 section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code, which makes it a criminal offense to blaspheme against the Prophet Muhammad.
What does the blasphemy law actually say?
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 violations not specific to Islam contained in Pakistan’s criminal laws include “trespassing on burial places” and “disturbing religious assembly.”
Those who have chosen to support Bibi’s cause have faced grave consequences. In addition to the threat against Bibi, her family and the justices involved in her acquittal, other prominent politicians have lost their lives in the pursuit of religious freedom.
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.
This verdict came 8years late. But at least it's here.We
Can't bring those precious8 years back but I hope the rest of Asia Bibi life is filled with peace and joy.
But don't forget legendary Salman Taseer who sacrificed his life for providing justice2 #AsiaBibi#لبيك_یارسول_اللہ pic.twitter.com/QI6tUFhmqq
— faisal (@FaisalViewss) January 29, 2019
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.
Bibi will now seek safe passage out of Pakistan, most likely traveling to Canada, where she has been offered asylum.