Minority Rights Group International welcomes the decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to acquit Asia Bibi, a Roman Catholic woman who spent the last eight years in prison facing execution on blasphemy charges.
“Bibi’s acquittal is a positive sign for Christians in Pakistan and a courageous landmark ruling that sets a precedent for future wrongful accusations against religious minority groups,” says Joshua Castellino, MRGI’s Executive Director. “Salute to the brave judges and hats off to all activists who raised their voice and did advocacy”adds Sajid Christopher Paul of the Lahore-based Human Friends Organization.
Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 after a quarrel with two Muslim women who refused to drink water out of a container from which Bibi drank. When they demanded she convert to Islam, she refused, prompting a mob to later accuse her of insulting the prophet Mohammed. “The case highlights the clear dangers with blasphemy laws, which can turn a fundamental freedom into a life-disrupting disaster, allowing political mobilization of majorities against religious minorities,” explains Joshua Castellino.
Public support for strict blasphemy laws is strong in Pakistan, where a rumour alone of its occurrence can spur lynching. In 2011, the governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was killed after defending Bibi and criticizing the misuse of the blasphemy law. The assassin was hanged for the crime, but is viewed as a martyr by religious hard-liners, with millions visiting a shrine created in his honour near Islamabad. Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minorities was also killed that year after demanding justice for Bibi.
Recent years have also seen numerous attacks against the community, including one on a church in Quetta in 2017 and a suicide attack targeting Christians celebrating Easter in 2016. “At a time of polarization in society along ethno-religious lines, the government of Pakistan needs to take active steps against the exacerbation of an intolerant environment that promotes fear, and germinates insecurity for Pakistani Christians” added Castellino.
With the ongoing protests following the verdict and threats to execute Bibi and the three judges responsible for her acquittal, MRGI calls for her safe release and the protection of all Christians and religious minorities in Pakistan.
Notes to editors:
- See MRGI’s Reports from Pakistan: Tracing the challenges facing religious minorities
- Read the report: Searching for Security: The Rising Marginalization of Religious Communities in Pakistan
- Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
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