Thursday, November 1, 2018

Pakistani Christian on death row for blasphemy freed by Supreme Court

Pakistan acquits Christian woman sentenced to die for blasphemy - John Bacon, USA Today:

October 31, 2018 - "Pakistan's highest court on Wednesday ordered the release of a poor, illiterate Christian woman who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy, setting off a wave of demonstrations by hard-line Islamists nationwide but drawing praise from human rights activists.

"The Supreme Court overturned the conviction against Asia Bibi, accused in 2009 of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a case that sparked violent protests in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 200 million people. Two Pakistani government officials were murdered in 2011 in crimes linked to their support of Bibi....

"Chief Justice Saqib noted that tolerance is the 'basic principle' of Islam. Pakistan Peoples Party leader Sherry Rehman cheered the verdict on Twitter.... But the future of blasphemy laws in Pakistan is far from settled. The laws remain popular in Pakistan, and Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed support for them during the recent election campaign.

"After the decision on Bibi was announced, the Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik said Saqib and the other judges deserve death under Islamic law. That drew a sharp rebuke from Khan. 'The state will fulfill its responsibility of protecting the lives and properties of people and take strict action against violators,' he said in a speech broadcast across the country....

"Bibi's case stemmed from a simple act among poor farmhands in rural Pakistan.... Muslim women working with Bibi complained when she dipped her cup into the water bucket, saying a non-Muslim was unclean. The women quarreled, and her co-workers accused her of insulting the prophet three times. She was later beaten, and the women complained to a local religious leader who pressed for the blasphemy charge. Insulting Islam's prophet is considered blasphemy [and] carries a death sentence under Pakistani law....

"The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom hailed the decision and urged Pakistan officials to take steps to ensure her safety. The group also called for release of the estimated 40 people who remain on death row for blasphemy convictions. Blasphemy laws protect entire religions rather than the rights of individuals, falling short of international human rights standards, commission chairman Tenzin Dorjee said.

"Amnesty International called the decision a 'landmark verdict' for religious tolerance. 'Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are overbroad, vague and coercive,' the group said in a statement."

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