After 8 years held under sentence of death the Pakistan Supreme Court has acquitted Asia Bibi of the charge of blasphemy. Many members of our Churches have campaigned for her release and against the oppressive blasphemy law in Pakistan. False accusations of blasphemy have particularly harsh repercussions for Christians, Hindus and other religious minorities.
Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy after an argument when she offered other women in the village water from her own container. Today, three judges of Pakistan’s Supreme Court have ruled that the evidence against her was thin and should not have passed the test of conviction beyond reasonable doubt. The judgement concludes that it is unlikely that Asia Bibi would have made many of the remarks of which she was accused.
In the Supreme Court judgement, the Chief Justice states that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws were introduced because an attack on the Prophet Muhammad “infuriates Muslims to an intolerable limit, resulting in an extremely serious law and order situation”. The blasphemy law recognises the hurt felt by many Muslims when the life of the Prophet Muhammad is attacked and provides recourse in the courts. However, the Chief Justice also notes that since the introduction of the death penalty for blasphemy in 1991, 62 people have been murdered following allegations made against them before their case came to court.
The Chief Justice summed up his appeal judgement by quoting from a Hadith of the Prophet 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).
Christians and other minorities suffer violence at the hands of extremists. They have had their places of worship set on fire and their villages ransacked. Unfortunately, even against this backdrop, a raft of recent government policies and legislation (for example over compulsory study of the Quran in schools) is placing additional restrictions on religious minorities.
The existence of the death penalty for blasphemy supports a culture of impunity around violence or threats of violence. Shortly before the announcement of the appeal judgement, the hardline Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, without legal consequence to themselves, threatened the three Supreme Court justices with “a horrible end” if they acquitted Asia Bibi.
For Asia Bibi, the miscarriage of justice and sentence of death has not only caused immense suffering but over 8 years has blighted the lives of her husband and children, together with other family and friends who supported her through the ordeal. Her acquittal is hugely welcome but it is an indication that the blasphemy law itself is a problem and should be revised or abolished.
The Church of Scotland has issued the following statement today:
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