Asia Bibi’s Blasphemy Appeal to be Decided on the Merits
7/22/2015 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) –
International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has temporarily suspended the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
The court has granted Bibi’s petition for appeal her conviction giving her a chance to be fully acquitted of the blasphemy charges that have seen her on death row since 2010.
The proceedings took place at the registry branch of the Supreme Court in Lahore earlier today where a three-member bench headed by Justice Main Sazib Nazir accepted Bibi’s petition for the review of her case. Talking to ICC after the court made its decision, Saif-ul-Malook, Bibi’s Supreme Court Advocate, said, “The standard of evidence which is required to prove [this] offence is not available in this case. Therefore, I am optimistic that the honorable court will acquit my client.”
“This is a procedural development and a small win for Asia that the Supreme Court has accepted her petition for review,” Peter Jacob, Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice, told ICC. “However, the outcome of this case will now depend on how it is presented to the court.”
For many, the blasphemy case against Bibi has become symbolic of how Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are widely abused and of how religious minorities are persecuted. The accusation against Bibi originates from a dispute that took place in June 2009 between Bibi and a group of Muslim women with whom she was harvesting berries in Sheikhupura. The Muslim women became angry with Bibi when she, a Christian whom they considered unclean, drank water from the same water bowl as the Muslim women. An argument between Bibi and the Muslim women ensued and later the Muslim women reported to a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against Islam by saying, “My Christ died for me, what did Muhammed do for you?”
Bibi has been on death row since her conviction and death sentence were announced by the Session’s Court in District Nankana, Pujab, in 2010. Her appeal hearing was held in October 2014 at the Lahore High Court. At that appeal, Justice Anwar-ul-Haq, one member of a two-judge bench, passed a short order confirming Bibi’s death sentence.
In response to the court’s decision, Molvi Muhammad Salam, the applicant against Bibi, said, “I submitted the application to cancel Asia’s petition against her sentence, however I have no objection over [the] court’s decision and will accept it on its merits.”
“Now [the] government must share the responsibility [so] that the case is not influenced by [forces] outside of the court,” Peter Jacob continued. “If [the] government chooses to educate the public on the misuse of the blasphemy laws, then Asia’s case is the best opportunity to repair some of the damages that have been caused by abusing this law.”
For the Christian community of Pakistan, the court’s decision today provides hope for a better future. “This decision is a source of hope for [the] Christian community,” Attaurhman Saman, Communications Coordinator at the National Commission for Justice and Peace, told ICC. “Once again, it shows that these laws have been misused by different actors to settle their personal scores. We hope the defense counsel will prove that Bibi is innocent and will highlight the mistreatment of this case by the lower courts.”
“I am very much happy for this great news and it is a big relieve for us,” Ashiq Masih, Bibi’s husband told ICC. “The whole family is thankful to God for listening to our prayers. We hope that justice will be done and Asia will finally be proved innocent.”
ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia, William Stark, said,
The court’s decision to grant Asia Bibi’s appeal is great news for both Asia Bibi and Pakistan’s Christian community. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are widely abused by extremists seeking to settle personal scores or incite religious hatred against the country’s vulnerable religious minorities.
Historically, pressure from Islamic radical groups and general discrimination against Christians has made courts in Pakistan little more than rubber stamps for blasphemy accusations brought against Christians, regardless of the evidence brought to bear in the case.
Today’s decision by the Supreme Court shows that at least Pakistan’s highest court is willing to resist these pressures and decide Bibi’s case on the merits. If decided on the merits, ICC believes that the court’s only conclusion will be to acquit.
That decision will lay a foundation for practical steps towards religious harmony in Pakistan and will be a signal that justice will prevail over extremism and intolerance in Pakistan’s courts even when a religious minority is accused of blasphemy.
For interviews, contact William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia: RM-SAsia@persecution.org
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William Stark, Regional Manager for South Asia