Blasphemy acquittal is no guarantee of Asia Bibi’s safety
If Pakistan’s Supreme Court decides tomorrow (Thursday) to quash the death sentence imposed in 2010 on Asia Bibi, above, who was found guilty of blasphemy, chances are that Muslim fanatics will do all in their power to kill her.
According to this BBC report (July 2015):
Thousands have protested against her and said they would kill her if she were ever released.
One threat came from the imam in her own village. The imam, Qari Mohammed Salim, told the BBC he cried with joy when sentence was passed on Asia Bibi.
He helped to bring the case against her and says she will be made to pay, one way or the other.
If the law punishes someone for blasphemy, and that person is pardoned, then we will also take the law in our hands.
Yesterday, the Guardian quoted her her husband, Ashiq Masih, above, as saying:
If Asia is acquitted we will never be able to return to our previous life, as my wife has been labelled an infidel and an infidel doesn’t deserve to survive in a society full of hatred. Too many want her dead and have put a bounty on her head.
Asia Bibi was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the “prophet” following a bad-tempered argument with Muslim women in Itanwali, the small village in Punjab where she used to live.
She became a touchstone for liberals and Islamists alike after her case was linked to the assassination in January 2011 of Salmaan Taseer, then governor of Punjab.
He was shot in the back by Mumtaz Qadri, one of his own police bodyguards, who had been outraged by Taseer’s public support for Bibi. Taseer had lobbied for a presidential pardon for her and publicly denounced the blasphemy legislation as a “black law”.
He echoed criticism of human rights groups which say laws intended to protect Islam have been widely abused, with false or flimsy allegations often levelled against religious minorities as an excuse to settle property disputes.
Bibi’s husband told the Guardian the family has been in hiding ever since Qadri’s execution. He said:
We know if she is acquitted there will be outrage, but at least it will stop the trend for more convictions under the blasphemy law.
Asad Jamal, a leading human rights lawyer, said the court had no option but to acquit Bibi. Both her original trial and her first appeal in the Lahore high court in 2014, which upheld her conviction, were hopelessly flawed, he said.
There is absolutely no case against Asia, I really can’t emphasise that enough. It should take no more than 30 minutes to throw the case out.
Although most of Pakistan’s blasphemy cases suffer from weak evidence, many police officers and judges are unwilling to put themselves at risk by throwing out cases.
In 1997 a retired high court judge who acquitted two Christians of blasphemy charges was murdered in his office. In 2014 a lawyer was shot dead in the city of Multan after agreeing to defend a man charged with blasphemy.
An acquittal of Bibi by the country’s top judges would be legally momentous.
According to Jamal, it is the first time the Supreme Court has heard a case under section 295-C of the country’s basic criminal law, which protects Mohammed from any insults.
It remains to be seen how far the Supreme Court will go. It has already angered the religious right by upholding Qadri’s death sentence and ruling that criticism of the blasphemy laws did not itself constitute blasphemy.
Bibi’s husband said the court was:
The last ray of hope for me, my children and family members.
He said the seven years spent behind bars had taken a heavy toll on his wife, mentally and physically. She is held in solitary confinement for her own safety and has no access to reading material.
There were 434 blasphemy cases registered between 1953 and 2012, according to the Legal Aid Society.
A network of lawyers who offer their services for free to people lodging blasphemy cases has helped drive up the number of cases in recent years, with 336 filed in Punjab province alone in 2014.
Although the state has never carried out a death sentence for blasphemy, at least five people accused of blasphemy have reportedly died in custody.