Date: October 31, 2018
Pakistan’s Supreme Court Renders Death Sentence Null and Void
Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy in 2009, was the only woman in Pakistan’s history to be sentenced to death under the country’s notorious blasphemy laws. The 56-page judgment, authored by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nasir, found that the prosecution against Bibi had not proved the blasphemy charges beyond a reasonable doubt and that the presumption of innocence remained with the accused.
“Asia Bibi today got justice,” Saif-Ul-Malook, Bibi’s Supreme Court Advocate, told ICC. “The Supreme Court held that the charges against her could not be proven. The Supreme Court of Pakistan deserves a salute.”
“Indeed it is a happy moment for Asia’s family, the Christian community, and Pakistan as she is acquitted by the Supreme Court,” Peter Jacob, the Executive Director at Center for Social Justice, told ICC. “The decision raises hope for the rule of the law and justice. The charges against Asia were false and based on a narrative of hatred, hence the Supreme Court has dealt with the case on merit.”
“Truth prevailed,” Sajid Christopher, President of Human Friends Organization, told ICC. “Justice has won. Asia will be leaving Pakistan immediately after her release for her safety.”
On October 8, the Supreme Court heard final arguments on Bibi’s appeal. Following the hearing, the court announced that it would reserve announcing its final verdict for an unspecified future date. The court further ordered the media not to comment on the case until the verdict was formally announced.
In spite of the media blackout, extremists took to the streets on October 12 in Lahore, Karachi, and Rawalpindi, demanding that the government put Bibi to death. Extremist groups like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan warned of “terrible consequences” for the Supreme Court Justices if Bibi was allowed to flee the country. Others threatened to bring the country to a standstill through sit-ins and other forms of protest.
Following the announcement of Bibi’s acquittal, extremists once again took to the streets in protest. “The situation on the roads is very tense today,” a Christian from Lahore, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told ICC. “Muslims have blocked the roads, set fire to tires, and are protesting continuously. Christians are feeling very insecure.”
“The situation all over the country is very tough,” another Christian from Sindh, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, reported. “Serious threats are being expected. All over the country is blocked now because people are demonstrating against the decision. Remember us in your prayers.”
Bibi was on death row since her conviction and death sentence were announced by the Sessions Court in Sheikhupura in 2010. Her High Court appeal was delayed and rescheduled seven times and was finally held on October 16, 2014 by the Lahore High Court which confirmed Bibi’s death sentence. On July 22, 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted Bibi’s petition for her case to be reviewed and suspended her death sentence pending their final verdict.
The blasphemy accusation against Bibi was based on flimsy evidence following a dispute that took place in June 2009 between Bibi and a group of Muslim coworkers with whom she had been harvesting berries in Sheikhupura. The Muslim coworkers became angry with Bibi when she, a Christian whom they considered unclean, drank water from the same water bowl as the Muslims. An argument between Bibi and the Muslim women ensued and the Muslim coworkers later reported to a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against the Prophet Muhammad.
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We here at ICC are so excited to finally see Asia get justice. It took nearly a decade, but finally justice has been done. Our prayers now are with Asia and her family as they are in extreme danger until they are safely out of Pakistan. We are also very concerned for the safety of Pakistan’s Christian community at large. Asia’s case remains highly sensitive and the ignition point for many acts of religious hatred. It is our hope that Pakistan’s security forces will be able to secure all Pakistani Christians, as extremists will likely seek revenge against their community. It is also ICC’s hope that this decision will lay a foundation for reforming Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and signal to both Pakistan and the world that justice will prevail over extremism, even when a religious minority is accused of blasphemy.”