A Pakistani court has overturned the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was on death row due to being allegedly accused of blasphemy in 2009. A trial court had found her guilty and had sentenced her to death for the crime. However, in the recent hearing of the case in Supreme Court, Cheif Justice ordered her release in light of the unsubstantial evidence against her.
A special three-membered Supreme Court bench reserved its judgment on October 8th on Asia Bib’s plea. Chief justice of Pakistan Justice Saquib Nisar ordered the release of Asia Bibi immediately if she was not wanted for any other case.
People have mixed views in the case. The Mullah brigade of Pakistan is strongly against the release of Asia Bibi and had threatened to come out on roads if Bibi was released while the Christian community has opposing views and are feeling threatened as a minority. Since the judgment on this case which was announced on 31st October, there had been an unrest in the country.
Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by a trial court. She was found guilty for passing blasphemous remarks. The prosecution had presented 7 witnesses to claim the profanation against Asia Bibi. Two onlookers Mafia Bibi and Asma Bibi claimed that they heard Asia Bibi make the blasphemous remarks and later accepting to passing the comments in an open gathering. The complainant Qari Mohammad Salaam, a cleric who insisted that he heard of the incident from the two onlookers Mafia Bibi and Asma Bibi. Three police officers who registered and investigated the case. And a local, Muhammad Afzal, who claims to be hearing Asia Bibi confess to making blasphemous comments in an open gathering.
According to the defense, Asia Bibi and the two onlookers Mafia Bibi and Asma Bibi got into a fight while picking berries from a garden. The fight heated up and the two said women along with the cleric Qari Mohammad Salaam accused Asia Bibi of blasphemy.
Asia Bibi in her defense also stated that she has immense respect for Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and cannot think of passing such blasphemous remarks.
Lahore High Court (LHC) in its judgment conceded that the defense was not successful in defending the guilty. The trial court stated that the hot words used by Asia Bibi to the ladies during the heated argument must have been blasphemous. And stated the fight over the water can be no reason for the two ladies to fabricate a story against Asia Bibi.
The LHC was not successful in having a fair trial. There were a lot of loopholes in the statements of the witnesses. Differences in the number of people present at the public gathering, who took Asia Bibi to the site of public gathering, when was she taken, where was the public gathering held and how long it lasted.
The court did not probe further into the defendant’s plea and decided to sentence Asia Bibi to death.
Salman Taseer, then Governor of Punjab stood up for the right of Asia Bibi and was assassinated by his own bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri on 4th January 2011. Mumtaz Qadri was hanged to death on 29th February 2016. Qadri, after his execution was declared Shaheed by some Sunni clerics for assassinating the alleged enemy of Islam.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan stayed the judgment in July 2015 and admitted her appeal for hearing. Earlier in October of this year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan heard the appeal and reserved its statement on 8th October. The court declared its statement on 31st October and decided to free Asia Bibi if there she was not convicted of any other charges. The judgment was given by three-member bench which was led by Chief Justice Saquib Nisar.
After the judgment of release of Asia Bibi, there has been an uneasy situation in the state. Some clerics have demanded the death of Asia Bibi. The judges have been forced to go into hiding following the judgment. The family of Asia Bibi has pleaded to be given security. Asia Bibi has been offered asylum in France and Spain.
After observing the situation the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, called for calm and demanded the religious leaders to stop from inciting people for their own political interests.
He stated: “Who suffers due to this? Our Pakistanis. The common people, the poor. You block the roads, you rob people’s livelihood.
He further stated that: “This is not the service of Islam, this is indeed spreading hatred for the country. Only anti-state elements talk like this, that kill the judges, start a revolt in the army….they are only trying to beef up their vote bank.”
The application of Blasphemy laws in Pakistan has been condemned in Pakistan for a number of reasons. The individuals accused suffer beyond proportion or repair. Like, in 2016 Mashal Khan a student was allegedly accused of blasphemy and was killed by a mob mercilessly.
There are multiple reservations on implementing the blasphemy laws in Pakistan also because most of the trial courts overturn the convictions and finds the convictions fabricated due to the lack of evidence.