While Supreme Court adjourned the long-awaited final hearing of Asia Bibi’s case today, the case has brought the whole world’s attention to Pakistan’s legal system.
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, was accused of insulting Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) after she got into an argument with a group of Muslim women who got furious at her for drinking the same water as they did. Subsequently, Asia Bibi was convicted and sentenced to death for blasphemy – a charge she has always denied – in 2010.
Since being given the death penalty, Asia Bibi’s family has suffered endlessly.
After Mumtaz Qadri’s execution, her family has gone into hiding, as the religious extremists constantly threaten to take their lives. The evidence presented against her show a colossal number of inconsistencies but despite everything Asia remains in jail.
After she was sentenced to death in 2010, her husband Aashiq Masih appealed against the verdict. The High court upheld the appeal in 2014 after which Asia Bibi’s husband proceeded to ask for President’s clemency. In July 2015, the SC suspended her death sentence for the duration of the appeals process. Today would have been its final hearing, had it not been adjourned.
Till date, nobody has ever actually been sentenced to death under the blasphemy law.
Asia Bibi would be the first one to receive the ultimate punishment if the court does not overturn her death penalty. Amidst all of this, the whole world continues to look at and wait for the country’s legal system to make a decision that will forever cement the legacy of the controversial blasphemy laws.
While explaining the general trend regarding the blasphemy cases in Pakistan, Mohammad Haider, a human rights lawyer based in Lahore pointed out, “Even the judges are afraid to hear such cases. It takes months or even years for the trials to take place and if the person gets accused, it takes another 5 years for his appeal to be heard. So, a person, who might not have done anything in the first place, have to spend several years in jail just because someone did not like what he said.”
Unfortunately, Asia Bibi’s case is a living testimony that even the country’s top judges are hesitant to discuss the controversial law.
The international interest in Pakistan’s blasphemy laws increased when on January 4, 2011 Islamabad’s renowned commercial area Kohsar Market witnessed the assassination of the former Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer by his own bodyguard for being vocal against the country’s blasphemy law. To put in the words of Taseer’s son Shehryar, “all he came out and said was: this is a law, made on Earth, by a man, should be debated in Parliament. That’s all.” However, as a consequence of this tragic event, the fate of the few of the outspoken political leaders, journalists and lawyers, residing in Pakistan, has become significantly clear.
Last year, while interviewing Lahore-based lawyer Saad Rasool on the subject, he opined, what is most abysmal is how easy it is, in Pakistan, to get an FIR registered when it comes to committing blasphemy. Rasool narrated one such incident. Back in 2014, a Shia book seller in Lahore’s Urdu Bazar, sold a copy of Nahj-al-Blagha – a compilation of the words of Hazrat Ali R.A. “Some right-wing Maulvi from Sargodha bought a copy of it, went to the local police station and got an FIR registered against the seller for selling a book that, in his opinion, was defamatory towards the other companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). We took that case and consequently, had to face a lot of – well, opposition. I write a weekly column and my email is always written at the bottom of it. I received numerous emails after that but I do not think there is any purpose of narrating all of them or any of them, for that matter,” told Mr. Rasool.
Adil Najam, the former Vice Chancellor of the Lahore University of Management Sciences said,“we must stop tolerating intolerance everywhere.”
And that rings true for Asia’s case. As she gets the long overdue verdict she deserves and the government works towards improving the implication of the country’s blasphemy law, the responsibility, in fact, lies with everyone in their private capacity to be more intolerant of intolerance.