Pakistan's Aasia Bibi Finally Gets Justice

Pakistan's Aasia Bibi Finally Gets Justice

Pakistan's Aasia Bibi Finally Gets Justice

The United Nations has welcomed Pakistan's Supreme Court decision to acquit Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on blasphemy charges, after accepting an appeal against her sentence.

Bibi's acquittal posed a challenge to the government of Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power this summer partly by pursuing the Islamist agenda.

The BBC reports that Muhammad Afzal Qadri, leader of the radical Tehreek-i-Labaik party, has said the three judges who delivered the decision "deserve to be killed".

Asia had been accused of speaking disparagingly about the Prophet but her real crime was that she offered water to Muslim co-workers who believed Asia had made the water ceremonially unclean by drinking from the same cup.

According to her statement in court, she had a heated argument with the women after they refused to drink water she had fetched for them because she was a Christian.

Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 on blasphemy charges.

Insulting Muhammad is a risky business these days. A road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi was closed off by the protesters. "We knew that she is innocent", said Ashiq Masih.

Asia Bibi's lawyer, closely flanked by a policeman, told the BBC that he was "happy" with the verdict, but also afraid for his and his client's safety.

"While this is a day of victory and celebration for Asia Bibi, her family, and all those who have relentlessly prayed for her, Asia and Christians in Pakistan need continued prayers", the ACLJ's Jordan Sekulow said, calling for the Pakistani government to provide Bibi with security and safe passage to someplace safer.

In Pakistan, even a hint of the word blasphemy can mean death- either by mob justice like lynchings, or in the courts where if convicted the punishment can be the death penalty. Many have speculated they will be forced to leave the country, but there was no confirmation of their plans.

Bibi was accused of committing blasphemy in 2009.

Khan, who has previously caused concern with his full-throated defence of blasphemy laws during his recent election campaign, vowed on Wednesday to hit back against hardliners inciting violence, saying the inflammatory rhetoric would only benefit "Pakistan's enemies". Officials also said Bibi might be flown out of Pakistan due to the threat to her life.

On Friday, some 5,000 Islamists rallied in the capital, Islamabad and almost 4,000 demonstrators staged a sit-in in Lahore, demanding that Bibi's acquittal verdict be overturned.

Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, rejected the verdict, saying Bibi had confessed to making derogatory remarks against the Prophet to seek pardon. Islamists in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi and in the northwestern city of Peshawar were also gathering for the protests.

Asia Bibi will no longer be facing a court-ordered execution.

Bibi's case gained prominence when former governor of Pakistan's Punjab province Salman Taseer was killed in 2011 for supporting her and criticising the blasphemy laws.

In a televised national broadcast late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the protesters the government would act against any prolonged blockade.

"They are threatening the government, the judiciary and the army but it seems the government and military are reluctant because they fear backlash", said analyst Fasi Zaka.

A month after Taseer was killed, Pakistan's religious minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian who spoke out against the blasphemy law, was shot dead in Islamabad.

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