Exonerated Christian woman on death row for blasphemy still in prison
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Italy said Tuesday that it is working to help relocate the family of Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Catholic whose death sentence for blasphemy was reversed by Pakistan’s Supreme Court but who still has not been released from prison.
Less than a week after the high court ruled there was not enough evidence to warrant the death penalty in this case, the justices agreed to accept a review petition questioning the legitimacy of her acquittal.
Bibi’s family has appealed to several countries to asylum. Although no death sentence for blasphemy has ever been carried out in Pakistan, Islamic extremists have often take the law into their own hands. Even those who have tried to defend the accused have been assassinated or put in jeopardy.
Bibi’s own lawyer has fled the country in fear for his life. After her acquittal led to violent protests by the Islamist movement Tehreek-e-Labbaik, Saiful Malook, her attorney, told CNN he was concerned for his life. Two days later, an associate who asked not to be named for security reasons told CNN that Malook had left the country “for Europe.”
Tehreek-e-Labbaaik brought the appeal to the Supreme Court and is putting pressure on the government to try to stop Bibi from leaving Pakistan, even if her acquittal is upheld.
But Bibi’s lawyer said from the Netherlands that he doubts the appeal will go anywhere.
“An application of a revision of the Supreme Court ruling, in the case of Asia Bibi, will have no impact on the judgment pronounced last week,” Malook said, according to Fides news agency. “There is no re-examination of the case or the presentation of new evidence. The prosecution should show what in the ruling is not correct. In the application of a revision, statistically there is only 5% of probability that the verdict is changed, and in Bibi’s case I believe there is zero possibility: that judgment is fully in line with the law and the country’s Constitution.”
Malook explained that it takes time to release an individual in prison, after the Supreme Court acquittal: “The verdict must be sent by post to the Lahore High Court, which must in turn send it to the judge of Nankana, in the court of first instance that issued the death sentence,” he explained.
On the agreement between the government and extremist groups, he noted: “The government is not obliged to meet the demands of radical groups. The agreement serves to save the face of Islamic leaders.”
Malook said he is confident that \ Bibi and her family will soon be safe and sound out of Pakistan.
Italy’s Foreign Ministry said it was coordinating with other countries to ensure safety for Bibi and her family, according to Time. Also on Tuesday, a lawmaker in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party called for Germany to grant Bibi refuge.
Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, told the BBC that the family is “so restricted our mobility is virtually zero. We cannot go out anywhere. Even for basic things, we have to rely on other people.
“I have never been so afraid as I am now for my family,” Masih said. “My life and the life of my family is really under threat. Since the verdict has come out, we haven’t been provided with any security.”
In spite of the extremists’ call for Bibi’s death, some Muslims in Pakistan have voiced support for Bibi’s acquittal.
“No one tolerates a blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and we are ready to sacrifice our lives for him,” Mufti Akeel Pirzada, President of the “Council of the Ulema for Peace” in Pakistan, told the Fides news agency. “But how can the Court ever punish a defendant when there is solid evidence of her innocence? The decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan to absolve Asia Bibi is remarkable and gives a message to the whole world: justice exists in Pakistan, for all citizens, regardless of religion, culture or ethnicity.”
Maulana Tariq Jameel, a well-known Pakistani religious and Islamic scholar, preacher, and public speaker, added, “I read the sentence and I believe that Asia Bibi is innocent. There is no sensible reason for taking to the streets and protesting. If she were guilty, I too would take to the streets, but she is not.”
Bibi was convicted in 2010 for insulting the prophet Muhammad during an argument with her neighbors in which she was beaten with sticks almost to the point of unconsciousness and later arrested and jailed.
In its ruling, the judges wrote that the case against Bibi violated an important tenet of Islam by failing to respect the faith of Christians.
“Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous,” concluded the judges.
The case has sparked clashes between hardline Muslims and more moderate politicians in Pakistan. In 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, and the Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, were both murdered for calling for Bibi’s acquittal and for the reform of the blasphemy laws.