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Top Pakistani court frees Asia Bibi, discards blasphemy conviction

October 31, 2018

Asia Bibi, the young Christian mother who was sentenced to death in 2010 under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, has been set free, after the nation’s highest court voided her conviction.

Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009, after a dispute with Muslim co-workers who pressed her to renounce her faith. She was convicted in November 2010 under Pakistan’s newly imposed blasphemy law, and sentenced to death, despite the absence of any clear evidence against her. She has been imprisoned since that time, serving much of her time in solitary confinement because of death threats against her. Her family has also been subject to death threats.

After a series of court appeals—which were frequently delayed, as Islamic extremists threatened judges—the Bibi case was decided on October 31 by Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which overturned the sentence. Presiding Judge Mian Saqib Nisar announced that the woman was innocent of the charges, and ordered her immediate release.

The court decision is “great news for Pakistan and the rest of the world,” said Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook. Her case had drawn international attention, as an example of how Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law could be abused.

However, the decision provoked outrage among Islamic extremists, who had threatened in the past that Asia Bibi and her family would be killed if she was ever released from prison. These threats must be taken seriously, since two prominent Pakistani politicians who protested Bibi’s conviction have been murdered. Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, was killed in 2011 after he called for her release; Shabazz Bhatti, a Christian minister in the ruling government, was killed soon thereafter, when he suggested repeal of the blasphemy law.

Some Christian schools in Pakistan were closed down immediately after the Supreme Court decision was announced, because administrators feared mob violence.

 


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