Asia Bibi Case: Justice finally prevails

Asia Bibi Case: Justice finally prevails

October 31, 2018 106

On 8th October 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan decided the case of Asia Bibi, who was accused of Blasphemy and had been given a death sentence. The highest court in the country reserved the ruling at the time, and then on 31st October 2018, the Supreme Court released the verdict in Asia Noreen’s favour; acquitting her of all charges and over turning the death sentence. She had been imprisoned for 9 years and on death row for 8.

Asia Bibi with her family

What is this case about?

In June 2009, Asia Bibi was harvesting falsa berries with a group of other farmhands in a field in Sheikhupura. She was asked at one point to fetch water from a nearby well; she complied but stopped to take a drink with an old metal cup she had found lying next to the well. A neighbor of Noreen, who had been involved in a running feud with Noreen’s family about some property damage, saw her and angrily told her that it was forbidden for a Christian to drink water from the same utensil from which Muslims drink, and some of the other workers considered her to be unclean because she was a Christian. Some arguments ensued. Noreen recounts that when they made derogatory statements about her religion, she responded, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”

Asia with her children

Later, some of the workers complained to a cleric that Noreen insulted the Prophet. What they accused her of saying, which would be stated in the later court verdict, differs from her version. A mob came to her house, beating her and members of her family before she was rescued by the police. The police initiated an investigation about her remarks, resulting in her arrest under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code. She subsequently was imprisoned for over a year before being formally charged. In November 2010, a Sheikhupura judge sentenced her to death. This ruling was subsequently challenged in higher courts before it reached the Supreme Court.

International Response

Noreen’s death sentence drew international outrage and strong condemnation from human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch who saw the blasphemy laws as a form of religious persecution and called for them to be abolished. Pope Benedict XVI publicly called for clemency for Noreen. In his statement, he described his “spiritual closeness” with Noreen and urged that the “human dignity and fundamental rights of everyone in similar situations” be respected.

A French Journalist, Anne-Isabelle Tollet, also worked with Asia on writing her Memoirs titled Blasphemy: A Memoir: Sentenced to Death over a Cup of Water. Due to prison restrictions she could not directly meet Asia Bibi but she interviewed her family and Asia’s husband helped convey Tollet’s questions to Asia.

Asia Bibi’s memoirs

The Reaction

Khadim Rizvi released a video 9 hours prior to the ruling which called all his followers to be ready for action in case the court rules in favour of Asia Bibi. He termed the condition a “high-alert” and instructed the people to be ready for any “sacrifice”.

Similarly a local cleric Pir Afzal Qadri, has issued a fatwa calling for the murder of any judge who rules in favour of Asia Bibi. In 1997 a similar fatwa by Qadri in a blasphemy case led to the murder of Lahore High court judge, Justice Arif Iqbal.

Conversely, the saner side of Pakistan is rejoicing over the acquittal; people are terming it as a victory of justice and step towards more tolerant and less prejudiced Pakistan.

The judiciary ought to be commended for this ruling, which came amidst pressure from religious groups and threats of violence and protests. The ruling was given by a 3 member bench, headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Saqib Nisar.

Balach Khan
Balach Khan
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