Asia Bibi, on death row for blasphemy since 2010, freed by Pakistan Supreme Court

Eight years after she was sentenced to death for blasphemy, Pakistan Supreme Court Wednesday overturned the conviction and ordered Asia Bibi to be freed. Chief Justice Saqib Nisar overturned the conviction by the Lahore High Court that had sentenced Asia Bibi, a mother of four, to death in 2010.

On a hot day in 2009, Bibi went to get water for her and her fellow farmworkers. After she took a sip, some of the Muslim women became angry that a Christian had drunk from the same container. They demanded she convert, she refused. Five days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy. She was convicted and sentenced to death.

She has since been living in an undisclosed jail in Pakistan due to security reasons. She had moved the Supreme Court against her conviction. In 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province was shot and killed by one of his elite guards for defending Bibi and criticizing misuse of the blasphemy law.

Internationally, Bibi’s case has generated outrage. But in Pakistan, it has rallied radical Islamists and militant groups who have embraced Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, using it to cultivate support and attack those who try to break their power.

Insulting Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of blasphemy can ignite lynchings. At least 1,472 people were charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2016, according to statistics collected by the Center for Social Justice, a Lahore-based group. Of those, 730 were Muslims, 501 were Ahmadis – a sect reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretical – while 205 were Christians and 26 were Hindus.

 

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