Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Asia Bibi: Pakistan lifts Christian woman's death sentence for blasphemy

Pakistani court acquits Christian woman on death row for blasphemy Pakistan Supreme Court frees Aasia Bibi, a Christian on death row for blasphemy
Gerardo Duncan | 31 October, 2018, 12:12

We are grateful to the judges for giving us justice. Asia was arrested in June 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010 for blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad's name.

To this, Justice Khosa had remarked, "From your statements we have gathered that the Imam himself did not witness the incident as it happened and no blasphemous words were said in his presence".

After five days of this argument between the women, a Muslim cleric lodged a complaint against Asia after a mob of Muslims beat her and forced her to confess.

Given the probing questions from the Justices during arguments on appeal and Pakistan's history of never executing a death sentence in a blasphemy case, the only reason for the Supreme Court to uphold Asia's conviction would be the extreme pressure from Islamic groups that has now engulfed the country, including threats against the Justices.

Sources in the administration told Dawn that Rangers and Frontier Constabulary had been called as part of measures to step up security in Islamabad. Islamists in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi and in the northwestern city of Peshawar were also gathering for the protests. Similar rallies are being held elsewhere as police urge demonstrators to disperse peacefully.

Bibi, 54, has been on death row since 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammed.

"It is great news for Pakistan and rest of the world", Bibi's lawyer Saiful Mulook told Reuters.

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

In Wednesday's verdict, the court ordered authorities to free Asia Bibi.

The Supreme Court has banned local media from reporting on the case until the judgement is announced.

The top court reserved its ruling on October 8 on the accused's plea against her conviction.

She had then challenged the LHC verdict in the Supreme Court, which stayed her execution in July 2015 and admitted her appeal for hearing.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the the capital punishment for breaking them has drawn concern from worldwide rights organizations, "not least because they are sometimes misused to settle feuds, grab land, or persecute religious minorities by making false allegations", NPR's Phillip Reeves has reported. "For the past eight years, Asia Bibi's life languished in limbo", said Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hardliners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

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