Pakistan overturns Christian woman's death sentence, sparking riots

31 October, 2018, 13:58 | Author: Clarence Schmidt
  • Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010
Credit
Reuters

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death by hanging for blasphemy against Islam, a ruling likely to set off mass street protests by hardline Islamists.

"This appeal is, therefore, allowed, the conviction and sentence of the appellant recorded and upheld by the courts below are set aside and she is acquitted of the charge by extending the benefit of doubt to her", he stated.

She has been offered asylum by several countries and was expected to leave the country if acquitted.

Ms. Bibi's case also has been high on the agenda of religious hardliners in Pakistan, many of whom are fiercely opposed to her release.

The judgment, authored by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, was reserved on October 8. "She be released from jail forthwith, if not required in any other criminal case". She was tried, convicted and sentenced to death.

Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who also spoke in Ms Bibi's support was shot dead two months after Mr Taseer was killed.

Tahir Khalil Singh, one of Asia Bibi's lawyers, told Premier: "I am so satisfied". Asia was arrested in June 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010 for blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad's name.


Insulting the Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and dozens have been killed following accusations, some by angry mobs.

"Keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt", concluded the chief justice. The women had said they could no longer use a cup from which Bibi had had water, because of her religion.

The offence carries the mandatory death penalty under Pakistani law.

In February, Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih and one of her daughters met with Pope Francis shortly before Rome's ancient Colosseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Bibi in particular.

Bibi's case started when, according to her autobiography, she sought to get some drinking water out of a well on a hot fruit-picking day.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the the capital punishment for breaking them has drawn concern from worldwide rights organizations, "not least because they are sometimes misused to settle feuds, grab land, or persecute religious minorities by making false allegations", NPR's Phillip Reeves has reported.

Ms Bibi's case rose to infamy after a regional governor, Salman Taseer, who appealed for leniency for her was murdered in a public square in the capital by his own bodyguard. In addition to citing the Quran, the judges also referenced Shakespeare's King Lear, saying Bibi was "more sinned against than sinning".

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