Pakistan: Aasia Bibi verdict is a landmark victory for religious tolerance
Responding to the Pakistan Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Aasia Bibi, also known as Aasia Noreen, of blasphemy charges after she was sentenced to death by a trial court in 2010, Amnesty International’s Deputy South Asia Director, Omar Waraich, said:
“This is a landmark verdict and an important victory for religious tolerance in Pakistan. For nearly eight years, Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian farmhand and mother of five, had her life languish in limbo. On the basis of no credible evidence, she was sentenced to death in 2010. The people who spoke up for her were threatened and even killed.
“This was a case that was used to rouse angry and violent mobs, to justify the assassinations of two senior officials in 2011, and to intimidate the Pakistani state into submission. Mercifully, justice has prevailed. A clear message must now go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute Pakistan’s long-suffering religious minorities.”
Aasia Bibi is a poor Christian farmhand and mother of five from a Punjabi village near Nankana Sahib.
In November 2010, a trial court sentenced Aasia Bibi to death for blasphemy charges brought against her the year before. Later that month, Salmaan Taseer, the then Governor of Punjab, visited her in jail, asked her to fill out a mercy petition addressed to the President of Pakistan, and campaigned for her release.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are overbroad, vague and coercive. They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas, and carry out vigilante violence. On the basis of little or no evidence, the accused will struggle to establish their innocence while angry and violent mobs seek to intimidate the police, witnesses, prosecutors, lawyers and judges.
In January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, was assassinated by his own bodyguard, who shot him 27 times. In March 2011, Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian cabinet minister at the time, was assassinated outside his mother’s home in Islamabad.
In 2015, the Pakistan Supreme Court accepted Aasia Bibi’s appeal against her death sentence.