WASHINGTON -- The Institute on Religion and Democracy is rejoicing over news of Pakistan's Supreme Court overturning the death penalty conviction of Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman falsely accused of blasphemy against Islam.
Bibi has been imprisoned in a Pakistani jail since 2010. She was arrested after her Muslim neighbors accused her of defiling a water bucket and insulting the prophet Muhammed during a dispute. Pakistan is notorious for its strict blasphemy laws used to ban any criticism of Islam and to infringe on the human rights of its religious minorities.
Violent protests and clashes with police have broken out in response to the court's ruling, according to BBC reports and multiple other news sources. A Christian friend of IRD in Pakistan reported many churches in his neighborhood are being attacked, causing him to flee. He also reports widespread angry mobs.
IRD International Religious Liberty Director Faith J.H. McDonnell commented:
"We thank God for the just acquittal of this precious sister in the Lord. Please pray for her and her family, and all of the Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan, that they will be protected from the virulent backlash of the mobs who are already attacking their communities. We should also pray for the justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and Bibi's attorney, Saiful Malook, all courageous men who put truth and justice ahead of their own security. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa quoted Shakespeare's King Lear to say that Bibi was 'more sinned against than sinning' in this long ordeal.
"It is time for the government of Pakistan to get rid of these egregious blasphemy laws. Whether used for actual cases of blasphemy or, as has been almost always the case, used for trumped-up charges to victimize an individual, they are appalling violations of human rights. There has been ongoing deliberation over both U.S. House and Senate Resolutions decrying blasphemy laws globally. We urge the U.S. Congress to pass them. At the same time, the news that police and paramilitary groups are attempting to protect the Christians from mobs ginned up by such Islamic jihadists as Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan is encouraging and shows that the government is not ignoring the threat that this acquittal poses to vulnerable Christians. We urge them to continue to crack down on the violence.
"Such terrible evil has resulted from such a ridiculous and false charge! Not only were Bibi and her family separated for so many years, but several good, courageous people were slain for speaking out against the blasphemy law and speaking for Asia Bibi. Two examples include a Christian, Government Minister for Minority Rights, Shahbaz Bhatti, and a Muslim, Punjab Province Governor, Salman Taseer. They were both gunned down for defending those accused of blasphemy."