In an ordeal that lasted for eight long years, many of which she spent in solitary confinement, Asia Bibi was a victim of religious bigotry and fabricated evidence, and her persecution continues
The Independent Voices
Thousands are protesting in Pakistan today, blocking roads in major cities and pelting police with stones, after the supreme court overturned the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian farm labourer convicted of blasphemy.
At the forefront of the rioting are the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a political party made up of religious extremists dedicated to punishing blasphemy. Reacting to the verdict, the TLP called for the judges to be killed and for army officers to commit mutiny against the army chief.
The TLP and its ilk have enjoyed a lot of leeway from consecutive governments when it comes to inflammatory statements and protests, but this might have been a step too far.
In an ordeal that lasted for eight long years, many of which she spent in solitary confinement, Asia Bibi was a victim of religious bigotry, falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad when she had refused to convert to Islam.
In a furious admonishment of the veracity of some of the evidence provided by the prosecution, which Justice Asif Saeed Khosa described as “not only an afterthought but nothing short of concoction incarnate”. He wrote, “Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s [Asia Bibi] religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad was also not short of being blasphemous.”
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It’s not uncommon for evidence to be fabricated in order to frame someone for blasphemy. According to Amnesty International, blasphemy laws in Pakistan “have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas, and carry out vigilante violence. On the basis of little or no evidence, the accused will struggle to establish their innocence while angry and violent mobs seek to intimidate the police, witnesses, prosecutors, lawyers and judges.”
In 2013, a brilliant and gifted academic, Junaid Hafeez, a Fulbright Scholar and formerly a visiting faculty member at Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan, was arrested for blasphemy based on possibly doctored printouts of materials that had been attributed to him. Some of the witnesses produced before the court could neither pinpoint any blasphemous content they claimed he was guilty of supporting, nor read or write in English, the language of the offending text.
Hafeez still languishes in jail. His first lawyer, Rashid Rehman, who also happened to be the local organiser of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was shot dead in his office for simply taking his case.