Written by: Sakina Nazarali, SFU Student
Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan, was accused of blasphemy by three women on June 14, 2009 for allegedly making defamatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for defaming the Prophet (PBUH), the guilty party is deserving of a mandatory death penalty. As a result, Bibi has been residing on death row.
However, on October 31 of this year, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi. The announcement came as a victory for human rights activists, who claimed that religious minorities in Pakistan were frequently targeted with allegations of blasphemy in order to settle personal vendettas. After Bibi’s acquittal, Islamist hardliners like the Tehreek-E-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) group called for nationwide violent protests.
Though the duty of a country should be to honour the Supreme Court, the Pakistani government went on to negotiate with the TLP, signing a document of surrender which demanded the Supreme Court to review a petition against the acquittal of Asia Bibi. The Pakastani government accepted an apology of the TLP for the damage caused by the TLP to citizens’ businesses and properties. Asia Bibi was then placed on an “exit control list,” preventing her from leaving the country.
By reviewing this petition and restricting her movement, Pakistan has shown that if extremists and hardliners gathering individuals and playing to extreme readings of faith, the state will settle to their demands. It’s frustrating to see its legal system being challenged by its religious leaders to this extent. Pakistan is opening a frustrating door where minorities can be persecuted on issues of faith, rather than fair criminal justice.