Pakistan's top court upholds farm worker's blasphemy acquittal

Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi putting her thumb impression as a signature on the appeal papers against her death sentence in 2010. Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld its decision to acquit the farm worker of blasphemy charges yesterday.
Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi putting her thumb impression as a signature on the appeal papers against her death sentence in 2010. Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld its decision to acquit the farm worker of blasphemy charges yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ISLAMABAD • Pakistan's Supreme Court yesterday upheld the acquittal of a Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy, dismissing a petition filed by Islamists who have called for her execution.

"On merit, this petition is dismissed," Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said in court, adding that the petitioners, led by a village prayer leader, had failed to point out any mistake in the original judgment.

Ms Asia Bibi, a farm worker, was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours working in the fields with her objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

Her conviction was overturned in October, prompting protests from religious hardliners calling for her death and demanding that the government prevent her from leaving the country.

Under pressure from days of protests in the capital, Islamabad, and other cities, the government agreed to stop Ms Bibi leaving the country until the Supreme Court heard a review petition.

Ms Bibi, who spent eight years on death row, has been in hiding since the Supreme Court freed her in October. She has always denied committing blasphemy.

In remarks to the court, Chief Justice Khosa was severely critical of the petitioners' attempt to have the judgment reversed and said Ms Bibi had been convicted on the basis of false evidence, pointing to discrepancies in testimony presented in the original case.

 

"You think we give the death sentence to someone on the basis of false evidence?" Chief Justice Khosa asked, before adding: "Such lies were told that one statement doesn't match with another.

"Please point out any error in our judgment and we're ready to rectify it," he said. "You start declaring someone deserves to be killed just on the basis of false evidence."

Hours before the Supreme Court announced its decision, Mr Shafeeq Ameeni, acting head of the hardline Tehreek-e Labaik group which led the protests last year, issued a new warning to the court not to rule in favour of the "blasphemer".

Mr Ameeni was not immediately available for comment after the ruling.

Ms Bibi's case attracted headlines around the world last year, highlighting Pakistan's strict anti-blasphemy laws, which campaigners have urged the government to repeal.

If allowed to do so, Ms Bibi is expected to seek asylum abroad. In November, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping her.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2019, with the headline 'Pakistan's top court upholds farm worker's blasphemy acquittal'. Print Edition | Subscribe