Pakistan overturns blasphemy death sentence
The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Oct. 31 overturned (PDF) the 2010 blasphemy conviction and death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman, citing failure to proffer enough evidence that Bibi indeed committed the offense. Bibi's conviction stemmed from an altercation with her Muslim co-workers at a farm in Punjab province, who said they would not drink water fetched by Bibi after she sipped from it because she was impure. Heated words were exchanged, and the account of the incident was later apparently exaggerated to incriminate Bibi. The trial court convicted her of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Bibi initially made what the high court called an "extra-judicial confession" to the crime at the scene, but claimed at trial that the confession was made under coercion and threat of death.
The court's judgment opened with explanation of the principles of Islam and the importance of teaching and learning tolerance:
Tolerance is the basic principle of Islam. It is a religious and a moral duty and further relates to...the fundamental freedom of thought, conscience and belief… Islam may tolerate anything but it teaches zero tolerance for injustice, oppression, and violation of the rights of other human beings the Quran speaks about, from the very beginning. Freedom of religion has been guaranteed by Islam. It prohibits coercion in matters of faith and belief.
The court nonetheless acknowledged the seriousness of the alleged crime, stating: "No one could be allowed to defy the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad be (صلى الله عليه وسلم) nor could a person guilty of disrespecting the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) be let off scot-free.” However, it tempered this statement by emphasizing the country's interest in preventing false accusations from leading to convictions: “[U]nless proven guilty, through a fair trial, as provided for in the Constitution and the law, every person is considered innocent, irrespective of their creed, caste and colour."
From Jurist, Oct. 31. Used with permission.
Note: The Asia Bibi case has polarized Pakistan over the past several years, leading to waves of protest and even deadly violence. The Supreme Court decision has already triggered angry demonstrations in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan. Clashes with police have been reported. Prime Minister Imran Khan has appealed for calm. Bibi, a mother of four, has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement. (BBC News, The Independent)