Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s Top Court Overturns Christian Woman’s Death Sentence

Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s Top Court Overturns Christian Woman’s Death Sentence

In a landmark verdict, Pakistan's Supreme Court has acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. The c

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In a landmark verdict, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges. The country’s Islamists have vowed to protest against the ruling.

Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Saqib Nisar said Asia Bibi would be set free if she is not wanted in relation to any other case.

“Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges,” the judgment read.

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“The expression ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ is of fundamental importance to the criminal justice: it is one of the principles which seeks to ensure that no innocent person is convicted,” Nisar said.

Asia Bibi

“Keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” concluded the chief justice.

Bibi was arrested in June 2009, after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. A year later, Bibi was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws despite strong opposition from national and international human rights groups.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court had reversed two lower court verdicts against Bibi in what was her final appeal against a 2010 death penalty after a hearing on October 8 of this year.

In 2014, her death sentence was upheld by the Lahore High Court. Rights group Amnesty International dubbed the verdict a “grave injustice.”

In 2015, Bibi’s lawyers filed an appeal in the Supreme Court against the death penalty.

A ‘historic’ verdict

“The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings. This is the biggest and happiest day of my life,” Saiful Mulook, Bibi’s lawyer, told AFP news agency.

After the October 8 hearing, Mulook told DW he believed if the appeal was heard on merit, Bibi would be released.

“The incident happened on June 14, 2009, but the case was registered on June 19, 2009. The accused did not get the benefit of doubt. Legally, it is a weak case,” Malook said, adding that witness statements were contradictory.

Pakistan’s rights activists and civil society groups lauded the top court judges for their bold decision.

“It is a historic ruling and will be helpful in promoting religious harmony,” Ayub Malik, an Islamabad-based political analyst, told DW. “Bibi’s acquittal proves that most blasphemy cases in Pakistan are fabricated.”

“This is a landmark verdict. The judges and lawyers have demonstrated great courage,” Farzana Bari, an Islamabad-based rights activist, told DW.

“But the government’s real test starts now, as it faces a backlash from extremists. The authorities must protect Christians’ lives and properties,” Bari added.

Nadeem Joseph, who sheltered Bibi’s family during the trial, hailed the Supreme Court ruling.

“Bibi’s family is very excited but at the same time worried. They are still in hiding as severe threats have been made against them. We hope the government will ensure their security,” Joseph told DW.

A highly sensitive issue

The government deployed extra security forces in the capital, Islamabad, after Islamist groups warned authorities of dire consequences against reversing Bibi’s execution sentence.

“We will embrace death but will not compromise on our stance [against Bibi],” Pir Ejaz Shah, a spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) Islamist group, told DW after the Wednesday ruling.

Mubashar Zaidi, a Karachi-based journalist, wrote on Twitter that Bibi could be flow out of the country anytime soon.

“She’ll be flown out of Pakistan shortly. #Asia was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy charges. High Court upheld conviction. Protests by #TLYR feared,” Zaidi wrote, referring to the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan.

Earlier this month, the TLP said in a statement that “any attempt to hand her [Bibi] over to a foreign country” will have “terrible consequences.”

Local media said Islamist activists were gathering in Islamabad and other major cities to protest against the ruling.

Pakistan’s populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power in August, vowed to defend the country’s controversial blasphemy laws during his election campaign earlier this year.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where 97 percent of the population is Muslim, were introduced by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. But activists say they are often implemented in cases that have little to do with blasphemy and are used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis — a minority Islamic sect — are often victimized as a result.

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