Aasia Bibi to finally walk free

Pakistani police officers stand guard outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Wednesday. Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday overturned a death sentence for blasphemy handed down to a Christian woman, acquitting her of all charges and ordering her immediate release. (AP)
Updated 31 October 2018

Aasia Bibi to finally walk free

  • Pakistan Supreme Court acquits Christian woman on death row after eight years in jail
  • Case had gained international attention after she was convicted for blasphemy

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday overturned a death sentence for blasphemy handed down to a Christian woman, acquitting her of all charges and ordering her immediate release.
The ruling brings to an end a long-delayed, landmark decision involving Aasia Bibi, 51, after she was convicted by the Lahore High Court (LHC) in 2010, making her the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
She had been in jail ever since.
The apex court announced the verdict on a 2014 appeal filed by Bibi challenging the LHC’s decision. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, while reading out the judgment, ordered for Bibi’s immediate release if she was not wanted in any other case. “The judgment of the high court and that of the trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges,” the ruling said.
Earlier, a special three-judge bench — comprising and headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel — reserved its verdict on October 8 after hearing the final appeal against Bibi’s execution.
The appeal had challenged the LHC’s October 2014 verdict which upheld a trial court’s decision in November 2010 sentencing Bibi to death for committing blasphemy.
Bibi was accused of making “defamatory and sarcastic” comments about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in 2009 during an argument with three Muslim women, while working in a field, in Sheikhupura.




This file photo shows Aasia Bibi, left, with the slain Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer at the Central Jail in Sheikhupura on Nov. 20, 2010. (AFP)

According to details of the case, she had been asked to fetch water to which the Muslim women objected saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl. The women later complained to a local prayer leader, accusing Bibi of blasphemy.
During the last hearing, Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, had told the bench that the incident had taken place on June 14, 2009 and a case was registered on June 19 by the prayer leader or imam in Katanwala village. The imam alleged that Bibi had confessed to committing blasphemy, the lawyer said.
The counsel further informed the bench that the imam himself was not a witness to the incident. “From your statements we have gathered that the imam himself did not witness the incident as it happened and no blasphemous words were said in his presence,” Justice Khosa said, to which Justice Nisar added: “As per the prayer leader’s statement, a panchayat [village court] was held in a house and 1,000 people had gathered for it.”
The Supreme Court, after reserving the verdict, restrained both electronic and print media from discussing or commenting on the matter until the final judgment was passed.
Islamabad was placed on high alert prior to the announcement of the verdict after a far-right group’s leader, Tehrik-e-Labaik’s Khadim Rizvi, called for protests in case Bibi was released. Additional police and paramilitary rangers were deployed in several areas of the capital to guard the Diplomatic Enclave and other sensitive buildings.
Bibi’s case outraged Christians worldwide and had been a source of division within Pakistan. The incident gained international spotlight after the-then Punjab governor Salman Taseer intervened and called for an amendment in blasphemy laws. The governor was later killed in broad daylight in Islamabad by one of his own bodyguards. His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 after the apex court found him guilty of murder and his appeal for clemency was rejected by the president.
Pakistan’s blasphemy law (295-C) carries the mandatory death penalty and activists claim that it is often used to target non-Muslim minorities in the country.

REACTIONS


Pakistan opposition draws thousands to capital to protest ruling party’s ‘foreign funds’ case 

Updated 19 January 2021

Pakistan opposition draws thousands to capital to protest ruling party’s ‘foreign funds’ case 

  • The Pakistan Democratic Movement urged the election commission to promptly announce its verdict in the case
  • The interior minister said the opposition alliance failed to attract large number of people to the protest demonstration 

ISLAMABAD: An alliance of Pakistani opposition parties, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), held a protest rally today, Tuesday, outside the election commission which is hearing a case involving alleged illegal foreign funding for Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. 

The case was filed in November 2014 by a founding PTI member, Akbar S Babar, who claimed massive financial irregularities in the handling of foreign funds by the party that amounted to about $3 million. 

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has still not adjudicated the matter, making the PDM leadership criticize it for “the inordinate delay.” 

“Neither is this government elected nor has it any right to rule the country,” the opposition alliance chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, said while addressing the participants of the rally in Islamabad. 

He accused the prime minister of contesting the 2018 elections after taking “funds from Israel and India,” adding that the foreign funding case was pending for the last six years even after a revelation by the State Bank of Pakistan that the PTI had 23 “hidden accounts.” 

Rehman said the ECP had held about 150 hearings in the case, noting that the PTI filed 50 applications for its deferment and that the nation was still awaiting the judgment. 

“Some powerful institutions had occupied the election system and brought an incompetent person to power,” he said. “They are now running the government from behind the scenes.” 

Criticizing the ECP, he said: “If this weak election commission provides them [the ruling party] protection, we won’t be able to trust it in the next elections.” 

Rehman said that no country in the world, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, was willing to trust Pakistan due to the government’s “poor foreign policy.” 

“We will continue our struggle [against the government] within the legal and constitutional ambit,” he added. 

The opposition alliance has frequently accused the PTI of coming into power by manipulating the 2018 elections and promised to dislodge through public support. The government denies the charge of election rigging. 

Addressing the protest demonstration, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Maryam Sharif also accused the prime minister of getting funds from India and Israel and using for his 2014 sit-in to overthrow an elected government. 

“Do you know who funded him from India? Bharatiya Janata Party member Inder Dosanjh. And the Israeli who funded him was Barry C. Schneps,” she claimed, adding that “countless” such people and companies from Israel and India had funded the PTI. 

Mocking the ruling party’s statement in the foreign funding case in which it blamed its agents in the US for any possible illegal funding, she asked the prime minister should also reveal the names of the “agents who brought you into power.” 

Lambasting the ECP, she said the election commission was “part of the crime of selecting an unqualified person and bringing him to power.” 

Pakistan Peoples Party’s senior leader Faisal Karim Kundi said that the PTI had admitted that its agents accepted the funds from foreign countries and companies. 

“If the agents had done something wrong, it means that the PTI is involved in it,” he said, urging the ECP to give its judgment in the case. “The verdict will prove which enemy countries had funded the PTI,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Islamabad’s local administration had beefed up the federal capital’s security to avert any untoward incident during the opposition’s protest demonstration. It had deployed over 1,800 security personnel to maintain the law and order besides identifying alternate routes to ensure smooth flow of traffic. 

Responding to the opposition’s protest, Federal Interior Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed termed it a “disappointing and poor” show and claimed that the opposition alliance had failed to attract a large number of protesters to its demonstration. 

“We welcome your long march [toward Islamabad] after this today’s show, and that will be your last show [of power],” the minister said, admitting that the opposition had all the right to address public gatherings. 

He also rejected the opposition’s accusations regarding Israel and India. 

“They [the opposition] were given a free hand [to protest outside the ECP], and they have been exposed,” he said. “We are waiting for their long march now.”