Islamabad Politics Report/Moazzam Raza Tabassam: Pakistan’s supreme court has turn down the death sentence for blasphemy handed down to Christian woman Asia Bibi, in a long-delayed, landmark decision.
The governor of Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, and the minorities minister, Shahbaz Batti, were murdered in 2011 after they spoke in defence of Bibi and called for reform of blasphemy laws.
Bibi remains in Adiala jail, in Rawalpindi, but will be freed as soon as jail officials receive the court order.
Though, Bibi is being released but there are fears that she might be at risk of being attacked by militants, amid threats of countywide paralyzing protests and “horrible” consequences to judges and army generals if the Christian mother of five was released.
The protests have already erupted in Islamabad, Lahore, and Karachi, among other cities.
The media has been prevented from discussing the case since the verdict was reserved on 8 October.
The apex court, in a three-member bench led by chief justice Saqib Nisar, issued the verdict on Wednesday morning, three weeks after they had reached a decision. The delay followed threats by blasphemy campaigners to hold protests.
“Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges,” said Nisar, reading out the judgment.
The two sisters who accused Bibi “had no regard for the truth” reads Khosa’s judgment, “and they were capable of deposing falsely”, adding that “the said semi-literate young sisters had a reason to level allegations against the appellant which could be untrue.”
The panel of three judges of Supreme Court ruled that Asia Bibi was “wrongly” accused by two sisters with the help of a local cleric, based on “material contradictions and inconsistent statements of the witnesses” that “cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution’s version of facts.”
The chief justice ended the ruling by citing a hadith (saying) of Muhammad:
“Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)
A trial court condemned Bibi in November 2010 to death for allegedly speaking three blasphemous statements.
Bibi’s case gained prominence when when former governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province Salman Taseer was killed in 2011 for supporting her and criticising the blasphemy laws. The then Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, went to meet her in prison and had her sign a clemency appeal after Pope Benedict XVI appealed for her pardon.
Asia’s husband Ashiq Masih and their two daughters, currently in London, anxiously await her safe release and reunion with her after eight years of wrongful detention.