Acquittal of Asia Bibi Draws Both Praise & Caution From Her Advocates

LAHORE, Pakistan (BP) — The acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who escaped death from a disputed blasphemy conviction in Pakistan, has stirred optimism as a legal victory and caution over her safety.

The Pakistan Supreme Court upheld Bibi’s acquittal Jan. 29. The three-judge panel ruled against Islamic extremists who challenged the court’s October decision to free Bibi.

“The verdict is a way forward, and it is positive,” NPR quoted Bibi’s attorney Saiful Malook as saying. “The judges raised pertinent legal questions, focusing on law and evidence, expressing displeasure over the perjury that was committed by the complainant against Asia and other witnesses.”

Bibi, who had lived in hiding in Islamabad since November, planned to travel to Canada to join family members already in Pakistan, a friend who requested anonymity told the Associated Press. She was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and would have been the first woman executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“I am really grateful to everybody,” the friend quoted Bibi as saying, the AP reported. “Now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters.”

As Muslim extremists continue to threaten Bibi’s life, her attorney and others are calling for the prosecution of those who falsely accused the 53-year-old mother of five in 2009. Other advocates urge protection of the 3.9 million Christians who live as minorities in Pakistan and for the protection of the Supreme Court justices who upheld Bibi’s freedom.

In advance of the verdict, hundreds to perhaps thousands of Muslim extremists who threatened Bibi and her supporters were jailed, according to varying reports, and remain in custody. Few protested after the latest ruling, according to reports.

“The Supreme Court judges have given very clear observations on punishment for perjury,” Malook told Morning Star News. “Although there’s already a law against recording concocted testimonies, it’s important that the state implement it in letter and spirit to discourage people from leveling false allegations against others.”

Joseph Francis, a Christian politician and religious liberty advocate in Pakistan, voiced similar sentiment.

“This is a very good decision, but I think those who falsely implicated Bibi, wasting precious years of her life, should be prosecuted and sent to jail,” Francis, leader of the Pakistan Christian National Party, told AP. “Such a sentence will prevent others from falsely implicating innocent people in blasphemy cases.”

Bibi’s accusers should be jailed for life, were it not for the sensitivity of the case, Pakistan Supreme Court Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa told AP. Two government leaders who advocated for Bibi’s release during her ordeal, federal minister for minority affairs Shabbaz Bhatti and Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, were murdered in 2011 for supporting her.

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Source: Baptist Press