Rabat - The court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian, who had been on Pakistan’s death row since 2010, convicted of blasphemy for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
By Josh Babb
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted Asia Bibi of making “derogatory remarks” about the Prophet Muhammad in a highly anticipated decision that was widely praised by human rights groups. The decision has also set off nationwide protests by religious political parties in Pakistan.
Bibi is a farmer and mother of four who has spent more than 8 years in prison since her conviction in 2010, relating to a dispute between Bibi and her neighbors over a bucket of water. Bibi was working in a field picking berries when she asked a group of women if they’d like some water, offering to bring it to them.
That was when the women, who were Muslim, said they would never take water from Bibi since she is a Christian. Following this the women then claimed that Bibi made a series of “derogatory remarks” about the Prophet Muhammed for which Bibi was tried and sentenced to death.
Pakistan’s highest court ruled that these allegations did not hold up, saying the prosecution based their case on flimsy evidence and had not followed proper procedures.
Chief Justice Mian Sabiq Nisar wrote, “This Court has held that ‘Commission of blasphemy is abhorrent and immoral … but at the same time a false allegation regarding commission of such an offence is equally detestable.’”
The legacy of the case has been violent. Following Bibi’s original conviction, Salman Taseer, the provincial governor of Punjab, where Bibi had lived, began to speak out against her death sentence and questioned the legitimacy of the blasphemy ordinances.
As a result, Taseer was assassinated by his bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, in 2011. Qadri stated in his confession that he had murdered Taseer in defense of Islam and the Prophet Muhammed.
Qadri was executed for his crime in 2016, but his legacy has lived on. Supporters of Qadri went on to establish the political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), which garnered more than two million votes in Pakistan’s general election earlier this year.
Following the court’s ruling, the highly secured red zone in Islamabad, which contains the Supreme Court, was sealed off in anticipation of protests with paramilitary forces deploying to protect the court.
Supporters of the TLP have staged demonstrations around the country in response to the verdict and clashes with police have been reported.
Bibi was not present for the court’s decision and instead was reached for comment by phone, reacting in disbelief. “I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?”
What happens next for Bibi remains to be seen. Several countries have offered her asylum, and she is expected to leave the country with her family.