Monday, 12 November, 2018

Pakistani court overturns Christian's death sentence for blasphemy

Aasia Bibi Aasia Bibi
Leonard Rios | 02 November, 2018, 19:25

A Catholic woman who was held in prison for eight years in Pakistan and sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy, reputedly because an argument sprang up after she drank from a cup that her Muslim neighbors wanted to use, was finally acquitted by a Pakistani court, but her life is in jeopardy from the hardline Islamists who want her dead.

Pakistani lawyers who are contesting the case against Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, speaks to media outside the Supreme court, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 31, 2018.

The BBC reports that Muhammad Afzal Qadri, leader of the radical Tehreek-i-Labaik party, has said the three judges who delivered the decision "deserve to be killed".

The woman shouted to other Muslim women working in the fields that Bibi, being a Christian, had made the water and vessels unclean for Muslims.

This historic decision has acquitted Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges after spending 9 years in jail.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, praised the court's decision.

Wednesday's verdict by the Supreme Court triggered demonstrations in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan. Her family has always maintained her innocence and says she never insulted Islam's prophet.

Dozens of Pakistanis - including many minority Christians or members of the Ahmadi faith - have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in the past decade, though no one has actually been executed.

Though Bibi is being released, there is fear that she might be at risk of being attacked by militants.

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"The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country's most vulnerable minorities", he said.

Thousands of far-right religious demonstrators continue to block major roads across Pakistan in protest against the acquittal of a Christian woman in a high-profile blasphemy case. "We also want that the Army should not be forced to take action (against protestors) which it is empowered under the law to take", he said.

Shortly after the ruling, hundreds of Islamists blocked a key road linking the city of Rawalpindi with the capital, Islamabad.

On Thursday, a lawyer representing a local cleric who had raised the initial blasphemy charges against Bibi petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its acquittal. In 2010, a trial court convicted and sentenced her to death. Afridi said they will get the routes blocked by protesters reopened "through wisdom", for which all institutions were in coordination with each other.

The following day, a much larger crowd dragged her to a village mullah, who told her had to either convert to Islam or die.

Punjabi governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for speaking out on Bibi's behalf and calling for the country's blasphemy laws to be overhauled. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged for the crime, but later was hailed by religious hard-liners as a martyr, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

Given the hostility and threats in response to today's verdict, it is likely that Bibi and her family will need to seek asylum in another country.

Blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3% of the Pakistani population, 14% of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

Nationwide rallies have also been held with videos uploaded onto the internet showing shoes and stones being hurled at Pakistan's new prime minister and supporter of Ms Bibi Imran Khan, sparking fears of violence in the nation.

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