Last week, a panel of three judges on Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld their decision to overturn the blasphemy conviction and death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian wife and mother.
The case has gained international attention over the more than nine years since Asia’s arrest, stemming from a dispute between her and her Muslim co-workers. After Asia allegedly drank from a water cup reserved for Muslims, her co-workers scolded her and pressured her to convert to Islam — the religion of 95 percent of Pakistan’s population.
Asia was accused of telling her co-workers, in response, that while the Prophet Muhammad is dead, Jesus is still alive. Days later, police filed a First Information Report accusing Asia of blasphemy against Muhammad (no Islamic scholar denies that Muhammad did, in fact, die, and the mullah who reported the offense was not present when the alleged blasphemy occurred). Sections B (blaspheming the Quran) and C (blaspheming Muhammed) of Pakistan’s infamous blasphemy law (Law 295) allow police to make an arrest based on the complaint of just one person alleging blasphemy.
Asia was convicted of blasphemy against Muhammed in 2010 and sentenced to death by hanging. A local mullah told media members he shed “tears of joy” when he heard Asia would be executed.
After Asia’s first appeal, an appellate court upheld both the conviction and death sentence in 2014. Asia then turned to Pakistan’s Supreme Court, which agreed to review her appeal. Finally, four years later, they issued their controversial decision.
Quoting the Quran, the Hadith and Shakespeare, the Supreme Court justices found multiple errors in the proceedings of Asia’s lower-court trial, overturning the verdict and sentence, and ordering Asia’s release.
While Christians and many others around the world rejoiced, radical Muslims in Pakistan promised nationwide protests and even threatened the judges who allowed “the blasphemer” to go free. Schools in Pakistan have been closed through this week in hope that any potential for violence will have passed by then.
There were media reports Bibi was leaving Pakistan for a safer country.
So how do we, Christians in the United States, respond to this good news from Pakistan? Of course we rejoice! But we also weep.
1. We Rejoice that Our Sister Will Be Free …
A wife — unjustly convicted and held in jail for more than nine years — is reunited with her husband! A mother has been reunited with her daughters! It is impossible not to celebrate this good news. We rejoice that this Christian woman is out of jail, and we pray she will soon be in a place where her safety will be protected.
But We Weep that It Took So Long
Asia Bibi’s daughters have grown from girls into young women, and their mother wasn’t allowed to be a part of their lives. How many significant moments have they missed together? How many changes have occurred in your family in the past nine years? More than nine years have passed since Asia cooked dinner for her family or hugged her girls as she sent them off to school. NINE YEARS.
The “evidence” against Asia Bibi hasn’t grown weaker in those years. No key witness died or changed her story, and no exonerating DNA was discovered. This was a case that never should have been filed by local officials, and certainly never should have resulted in a guilty verdict upheld on first appeal. Why did it take so long?
2. We Rejoice that Pakistan’s Legal System Worked …
I have traveled to Washington, D.C., three times with teams from The Voice of the Martyrs to deliver signed petitions to the Pakistan Embassy calling on its government to release Asia Bibi. More than 500,000 people from around the world — including Pakistanis — signed the petition.
On one of our visits, we met directly with a deputy to the ambassador. And every time we went, we heard the same message: “We have to let the legal system work.”
Thankfully, the system did eventually work for Asia Bibi. A conviction and sentence on a charge that never should have been filed has been overturned. An innocent wife and mother is out of jail. And that freedom came from within Pakistan’s legal system rather than from a pardon or other extrajudicial intervention.
The system failed at the local court level and again at the appellate court level. But on final appeal, on the verge of a third strike, the Supreme Court stood up — under immense pressure not to do so — and scored a victory for justice. We rejoice that the system worked, and we hope that Pakistan’s government and people will honor the decision of their highest court.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Todd Nettleton