Islamabad: In a landmark judgement, Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian who was accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammad and had been living on a death row since 2010, was finally acquitted by the Pakistan Supreme Court on Wednesday, prompting sporadic protests across the country by the far right groups who had been demanding death punishment for her.
Asia Bibi, who had spent eight years in solitary confinement still faces death threats from fundamentalists as violent protests have already started growing across the country. Pakistan's far right organization Tehreek-e-Labbaik(TLP) workers descended outside the Punjab assembly in Lahore, while others gathered to block roads in Karachi. The TLP chief, Afzal Qadri, said that all three judges are now liable for death adding that the accusation against Bibi carries an automatic death penalty in Pakistan's legal system and although the state has never executed anyone for the offence, vigilante mobs often turn murderous.
Christian farm labourer who now faces massive opposition in her own nation will almost certainly have to start a new life with her husband and children outside Pakistan, perhaps with new identities. She will spend the rest of her days looking over her shoulder in fear of an international assassin. It is not just Bibi and her family, the lives of the three judges, who apparently made the decision to overturn her conviction three weeks ago but held back from announcing it for fear of the consequences, are also at risk from raging fundamentalists.
Asia Bibi (51), mother of five, was imprisoned in 2009 and subsequently convicted in November 2010 by a trial court for blasphemy under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments. Then Lahore High Court (LHC) upheld her conviction and confirmed her death sentence in October 2014 after which she appealed in Supreme Court. The Supreme Court admitted her appeal for hearing in July 2015.
The court, in a three-member bench led by chief justice Saqib Nisar, released the verdict three weeks after they had reached a decision. The delay followed threats by blasphemy campaigners to hold large protests and kill the judges if they did not uphold the death sentence.
"Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges," Gaurdian reported quoting Chief Justice Saqib Nisar.
The two sisters who had accused Bibi of insulting Islam's Prophet Mohammad and Quran during an argument which was sparked because two of them had refused to drink water from Bibi's vessel, presented contradictory stories during the trial.
This case also highlighted two issues with the draconian blasphemy laws in Pakistan, one is how allegations can be used to settle personal scores and secondly lower-court judges are unable to acquit innocent defendants for fear of their own lives.Bibi remains in Adiala jail, in Rawalpindi, but will be freed as soon as jail officials receive the court order.(UNI)
Protests break out in Karachi , Lahore and Islamabad after Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted a #Christian woman #AsiaBibi.— Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) October 31, 2018
She had been sentenced to death for blasphemy and was on death row for a decade. pic.twitter.com/Ry09VGdyzM