Editor’s NoteOpinion

The curious case of Asia Bibi 

In June 2009, Aasiya Noreen better known as Asia Bibi – a Roman Catholic in Pakistan – was accused of blasphemy after an argument with villagers while harvesting berries.

She was subsequently arrested and imprisoned. 

In November 2010, a Sheikhupura judge sentenced her to death by hanging. 

The verdict was upheld by Lahore High Court and received worldwide attention.  

Minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Punjab Governor Salmaan Thaseer were both assassinated for advocating on her behalf and opposing the blasphemy laws.

Noreen’s family went into hiding after receiving death threats, some of which threatened to kill Asia Bibi if released from prison.

Muslim cleric Maulana Yousaf Qureshi announced Pakistani Rupee 500,000 bounty to anyone who would kill her.

Asia Bibi was the second Christian in Pakistan sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

Asia Bibi’s family was the only Christian family in her village Ittan Wali in Sheikhupura.

Asia Bibi was harvesting berries  in a field with a group of other women farmhands, when she was asked to fetch water from a nearby well. 

She complied. She got the water.

But she also took a drink of some of the water with an old metal cup, she found lying next to the metal cup.

A woman that had a family feud with Asia Bibi objected to her drinking water from the metal cup. Her reason, ‘a Christian cannot drink from the same cup as a Muslim and that she was unclean because she was not a Muslim.’

In the words of Asia Bibi on what transpired between her and the Muslim woman from her village,  “You’re just a filthy Christian! You’ve contaminated our water and now you dare speak for the Prophet! Stupid bitch, your Jesus didn’t even have a proper father, he was a bastard, don’t you know that?”[

Asia Bibi in her statement stated that when they made derogatory statements about Christianity and demanded that she convert to Islam, she responded, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you.”

Five days after the incident near the well, the woman brought a mob of people to the field. They accused Asia Bibi of insulting Prophet Muhammad. 

She was dragged away and punched in the nose.

The Iman of the village mooted that she could redeem herself if she converted to Islam or face death. 

Asia Bibi refused to convert to Islam and pleaded that she is not guilty of the charges put on her by the woman of the village with whom she had an argument. 

She pleaded for mercy.

Later a mob came to her house, beat her and her family before she was taken away by the police.

The police arrested her and charged her under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Asia Bibi was alleged to using  “defamatory and sarcastic” statements about the Prophet Muhammad.

The prosecution presented seven witnesses to support the blasphemy allegations. 

Two eyewitnesses, Mafia and Asma, claimed they heard Aasia make the allegedly blasphemous remarks, and later “admit” to making the statements during a “public gathering”. 

Another witness, a local cleric, Qari Mohammad Salaam, later registered criminal complaint with the police.

A trial court in Pakistan convicted Asia Bibi for blasphemy in November 2010 and sentenced her to death. 

In 2015, Supreme Court suspended death sentence for appeal processes.

Asia Bibi stated that she had “great respect and honour for Prophet Muhammad and the Holy Quran” and never made the alleged blasphemous remarks.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel overturned the death sentence of Bibi.

“The prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt,” concluded the chief justice and said she could immediately walk free from jail if not wanted in connection with any other case. 

“It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means ‘sinful’,” reads the judgment written by Justice Asif Khosa, “but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, ‘more sinned against than sinning’.”

The detailed verdict observed that “It is the duty of the State to ensure that no incident of blasphemy shall take place in the country,” adding that.

However, it is not for the individuals, or a gathering (mob), to decide as to whether any act” amounts to blasphemy. “It is the mandate of the Court to make such decision after conducting a fully qualified trial and on the basis of credible evidence brought before.”

In his verdict, Justice Asif Khosa noted:

“The statements made by Muhammad Idrees and Muhammad Amin Bukhari, SP before the trial court revealed that the alleged blasphemy had been committed by the Christian appellant after her Muslim co-workers had insulted the appellant’s religion and had injured her religious sensibilities only because she believed in and was a follower of Jesus Christ. 

According to the Holy Qur’an a Muslim’s faith is not complete till he believes in all the Holy Prophets and Messengers of Almighty Allah including Jesus Christ (Isa son of Maryam) (Peace Be Upon Him) and all the revealed Holy Books of Almighty Allah including the Holy Bible. From that perspective insulting the appellant’s religion by her Muslim co-workers was no less blasphemous. “

The fanaticism over the case of Asia Bibi took alarming proportions during the trial.

First the assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer in 2011 by one of his security guards after campaigning for Bibi while Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed in 2011 for being an outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws. 

Post the Supreme Court verdict quashing Asia Bibi’s death sentence, thousand of Muslim protesters have brought Pakistan to a halt.

They are burning rickshaws, car and lorries to protest the acquittal of Asia Bibi.

Schools have been shut across the country.

Protesters have been throwing stones at posters of Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan’s Chief Justice.

The Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan threatened a strong government action against protesters if they did not abide by the law.

Rightwing religious organisations, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD), a charity founded by UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed, and the Jamaat-Ulema-e-Islam have brought Pakistan to standstill demanding the revoking of the SC order and ensuring the death penalty to Asia Bibi.

Yesterday the Pakistan government arrived at an agreement with the hardliners in the country to stop the protests.

Here are the two main conditions of the agreement

  1. Proceedings will begin to bar Asia Bibi from leaving the country.
  2. The government will not prevent protesters from legally challenging the SC decision to release her.

The Pakistani lawyer who fought Asia Bibi case, left the country today, saying his life was under threat.

Saif ul Mulook’s arguments in court freed Asia Bibi, who spent nearly a decade on death row, after the Supreme Court overturned her sentence on Wednesday. “In the current scenario, it’s not possible for me to live in Pakistan,” the 62-year-old told AFP before boarding a plane to Europe early Saturday morning.

Her family had expected her to be released by Thursday night.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her release so that they could fly out of Pakistan.

However, now the wait of the family for Asia’s to return is uncertain.

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