Britain and other nations should offer asylum to Asia Bibi and her family, Christian campaigners said after the Catholic mother-of-five was acquitted of blasphemy charges in Pakistan on 31 October. A three-judge bench of Pakistan’s Supreme Court saved the illiterate farm labourer from execution, with its decision to acquit and release her.
In a 56-page ruling the court stated that ‘the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt’.
The judges also asserted that ‘it is not for the individuals, or a gathering (mob), to decide as to whether any act falling within the purview of Section 295-C has been committed or not’.
The court quoted Shakespeare’s King Lear in its ruling, saying Asia Bibi appeared to have been ‘more sinned against than sinning’.
‘Even if there was some grain of truth in the allegations levelled in this case against the appellant, still the glaring contradictions in the evidence of the prosecution highlighted above clearly show that the truth in this case had been mixed with a lot which was untrue’, the ruling said.
Barnabas Fund, which has been providing monthly food parcels for her family, reported that Asia said to her lawyer following the verdict, ‘I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really? I just don’t know what to say, I am very happy, I can’t believe it’.
Ms Bibi has been on death row since November 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy based on comments she allegedly made related to her Catholic faith while drinking water by a well.
Campaigners are now urging Pakistan to act to protect Asia Bibi and her family and to review every blasphemy case. At the time of writing she remains in jail for security reasons amid fears for her safety.
Following the verdict, the patron-in-chief of the Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik political party is reported to have stated that the chief justice and those who ordered Asia’s release ‘deserve death’.
Release International CEO Paul Robinson called the ruling a triumph, saying, ‘Finally humanity and common sense have triumphed over extremism. Asia was falsely accused because she was a Christian’.
He urged, ‘Pakistan must take immediate action to repeal these notorious blasphemy laws. It will take courage to do the right thing and draw a line through the law that underpins this hatred. The blasphemy law must be struck off the statute books. It must be repealed’.
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, and insisted, ‘No blasphemous words were used at all’. But Pakistan’s newly-elected Prime Minister Imran Khan described the blasphemy law merely as ‘inconvenient’ for people like Asia Bibi, and has pledged to keep it on the statute books.
More than 1,200 people have been charged with blasphemy since 1987, a disproportionate number of these Christians. At least 16 others, beside Asia, are on death row.