Finally, Asia Bibi got justice. Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) acquitted her from the draconian blasphemy charges. By doing so, the SCP overturned the conviction by the Lahore High Court (LHC). Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and farm labourer, had to spend around nine years in prison. Since 2010, she was on a death row. The sentence under the blasphemy law in Pakistan’s legal system is only death penalty.
The international community was watching the judgement in Asia Bibi’s case closely as it was one of the high profile case. Various international human rights organisations pleaded with the Pakistani authorities to release her. In Pakistan, mere allegations of blasphemy can turn into horrific violence.
The land mark ruling has set off protests across Pakistan. Right-wing organisations like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), mullah-maulavis are on the streets condemning the judgement. They called Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar ‘liable to be killed’. Justice Nisar later said, “We are ready to sacrifice ourselves for the Prophet’s honour. But, we are not judges for only Muslims. If there is no proof against someone, how can we punish them?”
The new PM Imran Khan has also taken the threats of right-wingers seriously and warned them against confronting the state. Imran said, “Only enemies of the state call for the execution of judges.” He warned that no one will be allowed to block the roads and bring the country to a halt. The scenario deserves some serious action by Pakistan government and the all powerfull army.
The three judge bench of SCP gave a unanimous ruling and has shown courage. It is not easy to defend an accused of blasphemy.
Progressive lawyers are killed by religious fanatics. In January 2011, then Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri in broad daylight in Islamabad when he supported Asia Bibi. Later, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and Minister for Minorities Affairs, was also assassinated for speaking in favour of Asia Bibi.
According to The Guardian, “TLP was formed as a pressure group to prevent the judicial execution of Mumtaz Qadri.” In February 2016, Mumtaz Qadri was hanged. In April 2017, Mashal Khan, a Pakistani student, was killed due to a rumour that he insulted Islam. In 2014, Rashid Rehman, a lawyer, was killed in Multan because he was defending a blasphemy accused, Junaid Hafeez, a lecturer.
The allegation against Asia Bibi was that she made three defamatory statements against the Prophet on June 14, 2009 during an argument with three Muslim women. A trial court convicted her and sentenced her to death in November 2010. LHC confirmed the sentence in October 2014. In 2015, Asia Bibi challenged the LHC ruling in the SCP, where finally she got justice. In the SCP, left-wing lawyer Saif ul Malouk defended Asia Bibi.
Many times, the blasphemy law is misused in Pakistan to settle personal scores. Most of the accused are from the majority Muslim community but people from minority suffer worse. It is very difficult for even progressive people and organisations to demand removal of the blasphemy law. It is not even easy to demand giving human face to the said law. If for various political, religious, social reasons blasphemy law cannot be repealed, then at least it deserve reforms. It is always difficult to find a lawyer to defend a blasphemy accused.
Some comparison can be made with the current Indian situation. The Supreme Court of India (SCI) gave a progressive ruling on the Sabarimala temple allowing women of age 10 to 50 to enter the temple. But, shockingly, hundreds of people including women are protesting against the judgement. Similarly, hundreds of people in Pakistan are protesting against the Supreme Court ruling on Asia Bibi.
Modern society needs laws based on social-gender equality.