SC acquits Asia bibi in blasphemy case

Glen Norman
October 31, 2018

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam's prophet, ordering her to be freed if she was not accused of any other crime.

During the appeal hearing on October 8, a three-member panel of Supreme Court justices appeared to question the case against her, with Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, considered Pakistan's top expert in criminal law, listing flaws in the proceedings.

He said: "The appeal is allowed".

She has been offered asylum by several countries and was expected to leave the country if acquitted. "The conviction and the sentence of death [are overturned]", said chief justice Saqib Nisar while announcing the verdict.

Ms Asia Bibi's case drew the attention of worldwide rights groups and swiftly became the most high-profile in the country.

Asia Bibi, a mother of four, has been living on death row since 2010 when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws. "We knew that she is innocent", he said.

After five days of this argument between the women, a Muslim cleric lodged a complaint against Asia after a mob of Muslims beat her and forced her to confess.

In February, Ms. Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih and one of her daughters met with Pope Francis shortly before Rome's ancient Colosseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Ms. Bibi in particular. If she loses her final appeal, she could be put to death.

At the Supreme Court hearing earlier this month - a hearing our legal team on the ground in Pakistan attended - Asia Bibi's defense attorney in Pakistan called much of the prosecution's evidence - or lack thereof - into question. The chief justice had also directed news channels to not discuss the case.

"Finally Asia Bibi has won", her lawyer, Saiful Malook, told The Times.

She was then told off by a Muslim neighbor, who turned to other Muslim women in the area to tell them the Christian devotee had dirtied the water by drinking from their cup. The Lahore High Court (LHC) had upheld her conviction and confirmed her death sentence in October 2014. In 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province was shot and killed by one of his elite guards for defending Bibi and criticizing misuse of the blasphemy law. Bibi's case was closely followed internationally amid concern for Pakistan's religious minorities, who have frequently come under attack by extremists in recent years. His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 and has been feted as a hero by hardliners, with a shrine to him built by Islamists just outside the capital.

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