Pakistan Supreme Court overturns death penalty on Christian mother on death row for blasphemy.

Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi

Protests have broken out in Pakistan over the decision by the Supreme Court to acquit Asia Bibi, the Christian mother who has been on death row for six years. Asia was convicted of blasphemy - a charge she has always denied.

Release International, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, describes the ruling as a triumph, and is now calling for Asia, her family and her lawyer to be protected from vigilantes who may try to take the law into their own hands.

'We welcome this verdict,' says Release Chief Executive Paul Robinson, 'Finally humanity and common sense have triumphed over extremism. Asia was falsely accused because she was a Christian. Pakistan must act to protect the lives of this mother, her family and her lawyer. And Pakistan must take immediate action to repeal these notorious blasphemy laws, which are being used as an instrument of persecution against the country's Christian minority.'

The Supreme court ruled that Asia Bibi should be released if she is not facing any more charges.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was charged with blasphemy in 2009. She has been on death row for six years, attacked and abused and a bounty of almost 400,000 has been put on her head. Her family have had to go into hiding. Today they are at even greater risk.

Protests

Asia Bibi
Asia Bibi

The ruling was made at 9am yesterday (Wednesday) in Pakistan, which is five hours ahead of the UK, amid a heavy police presence. Protests have broken out in Islamabad and other cities, where pro-blasphemy protesters have blocked roads.

Pakistan's radical TLP party has threatened the Appeal judges who freed Asia with a 'horrible end' and have declared they will bring the country to a standstill.

Earlier, 150 Muslim clerics issued a fatwa warning the Pakistan government of consequences should they release Asia Bibi. And that fatwa threatens to kill anyone who assists any person accused of blasphemy.

'These are no idle threats,' warns Paul Robinson, the CEO of Release International, which had long been campaigning for Asia's acquittal. 'Release is concerned for her safety and hopes that Britain and other nations will offer Asia and her entire family asylum.

'It would be a tragedy if Asia, who has spent so many years on death row, will now be forced to live apart from those she loves.'

Ruling

The Supreme Court ruling stated:

'Since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations, even before their trial could be conducted in accordance with law. Even prominent figures, who stressed the fact that the blasphemy laws have been misused by some individuals, met with serious repercussions. A latest example of misuse of this law was the murder of Mashal Khan, a student of Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan, who in April 2017 was killed by a mob in the premises of the university merely due to an allegation that he posted blasphemous content online.'

Even so, newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan has described the blasphemy law as 'inconvenient' for people like Asia Bibi, and has pledged to keep it on the statute books.

Challenge

At the Appeal hearing, Asia's lawyer, Saif Ul Malook, successfully challenged the accusation of blasphemy filed against her by an Imam in the village of Katanwala.

The lawyer argued that the prayer leader had not actually witnessed the incident. According to the newspaper Dawn, Justice Khosa declared, 'No blasphemous language was uttered in the presence of the prayer leader.'

Asia's lawyer also pointed out that the statements of the women who complained against her were found to be contradictory.

He argued that the investigation had been faulty and grounded in malicious intent. The lawyer insisted, 'No blasphemous words were used at all.'

According to reports, Asia's husband Ashiq has described his wife as, 'Psychologically, physically and spiritually strong with a very strong faith.'