The Supreme Court of Pakistan has concluded that a story accusing a Christian woman who offered her Muslim co-workers water was “concocted” to charge her with the capital offense of blasphemy, and “the appellant being innocent deserves acquittal.”
The stunning decision frees Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who had been jailed for nine years on the charge and was appealing her conviction and death sentence.
Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar read the verdict that the judgement of the high court is reversed and Bibi should be set free if she is not wanted in any other case.
She was arrested in 2009 and convicted in 2010 under section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code that punishes blasphemy against Muhammad with the death penalty. She was sentenced to execution by hanging.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which represented Bibi, said she “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.”
“They asked her to convert to Islam, which Asia refused. Five days after this argument between the women, a Muslim cleric lodged a complaint against Asia after a mob of Muslims beat her and forced her to confess,” ACLJ said.
The Supreme Court, however, found the confession was made under the threat of violence and that the story of her “blasphemy” was “concocted.”
The court said: “The alleged extra-judicial confession was not voluntary but rather resulted out of coercion and undue pressure as the appellant was forcibly brought before the complainant in presence of a gathering, who were threatening to kill her; as such, it cannot be made the basis of the conviction.”
Further, the ruling said there “is an inordinate delay of about five days in lodging of the [complaint] which casts a serious doubt and shadow about the probity of the witnesses, and in fact, after the deliberations, a false story was concocted by the witnesses and reported to the police.”
ACLJ cautioned, however, “the danger for this Christian mother of 5 is not over.
“Islamabad, the seat of the highest court in Pakistan, was on high security alert today,” the legal group said. “Rangers were deployed around the court and other parts of the capital. And there are reports of mobs in the streets burning tires over the court’s decision to release her.
“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. Today’s verdict will not make many in Pakistan happy. The death threats that have been issued against Asia and the justices should be taken seriously.
“We urge the government of Pakistan to provide necessary security to Asia and give her a safe passage to a place of peace and security. And we ask each and every one of you to please pray for Asia Bibi’s safety as you rejoice at her release.”
The court’s ruling noted that the witnesses couldn’t even agree on the material facts of the case, such as when and where the alleged offense occurred.
The court concluded that since “the conviction as also the sentence of death awarded to the appellant is set aside, and she is acquitted of the charge. She be released from jail forthwith.”
Bibi, according to the Christian group Barnabas Fund, told her lawyer: “I can’t believe what I am hearing; will I go out now? Will they let me out, really? I just don’t know what to say, I am very happy, I can’t believe it.”
Kelsey Zorzi, director of advocacy for global religious freedom for ADF International, said blasphemy laws “criminalize the exercise of fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”
“Blasphemy laws directly violate international law,” Zorzi said. “All people have the right to freely choose, and live out, their faith. We, therefore, urge all governments to uphold this right by ceasing enforcement and initiating repeal of their blasphemy laws.”
Her case gained additional prominence when then-Punjab Gov. Salmaan Taseer pleaded for a retrial and was subsequently murdered by one of his security guards in 2011.
Hundreds of Christians and members of other faiths have been jailed for blasphemy in Pakistan, but ACLJ said the government never has executed anyone for the religious offense. Nevertheless, many defendants have been killed by Muslim mobs carrying out vigilante justice.
WND reported hundreds of protests were being held throughout Pakistan by Muslims threatening destruction and murder if the Supreme Court doesn’t order Bibi’s execution.
Her case was heard on appeal Oct. 8 before the Pakistani Supreme Court.
Tufail Ahmad, a senior fellow for the Middle East Media Research Institute’s Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative, wrote about the threats and violence from Muslims who were trying to influence their judicial system.
The protests took place in an estimated 200 towns and cities, often immediately after Friday prayers at mosques.
“Religious clerics … who addressed the rallies in these towns vowed to continue their protests until the Supreme Court delivers its judgment and to oppose any attempt to amend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws,” Ahmad wrote. “Should the court verdict be lenient against Asia Bibi, they warned of countrywide chakka jaam – laying siege to traffic, a form of protests in South Asia where protesters stop, attack and burn vehicles.”
Pakistani media reported the protest leaders also took pledges from activists and the public to offer any sacrifice of life and wealth.
Ahmad cited a report that said “the lovers of Prophet Muhammad were seen to be extremely agitated and were demanding that the blasphemer Asia be hanged.”
The protests are being led by the Islamic party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah.
The group’s emir for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province said: “The purpose of this protest is to raise awareness that if any such judgment is delivered in this sensitive case that grants concessions to the blasphemer Asia, then we will protest all over the country. We will jam [lay siege to traffic] the country and the entire responsibility of it will be on the government.”
ACLJ said the protesters are “enraged at the very possibility of this Christian’s life being spared.”
“They’re demanding her death and threatening consequences – even against the judges – if she’s released,” the group said.
“This is an incredibly dangerous time, not only for Asia Bibi and the justices deciding her case, but the entire Christian community,” ACLJ said. “Pakistan’s Christian community fears they will be the first target of retribution if Bibi’s life is spared. They are asking for prayer and protection.”
ACLJ said the “barbaric mob rule” cannot be tolerated.
“It is well past time for the Pakistani government to take action and start protecting its Christian citizens.”