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Christians fear reprisals: Islamists riot after Aasia Bibi verdict

Breaking News South Asia

Christians fear reprisals: Islamists riot after Aasia Bibi verdict

Protests against Aasia Bibi verdict. Photo credit: Social media video screenshot

Mass protests are being staged against the Aasia Bibi ‘not guilty’ verdict in Pakistan’s cities. Police moved to protect Youhannabad, Lahore’s largest Christian community.

Other protests are underway in Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar following the announcement of her acquittal. Islamist leaders previously threatened to paralyse the country if she was released, with the patron-in-chief of the Islamist Tehreek-i-Labbaik party, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, telling a rally that her acquittal would be “deemed an attack on Islam, the Constitution and blasphemy law”.

Following the verdict, Qadri is reported to have stated that the chief justice and those who ordered Aasia’s release “deserve death”.

The bold verdict by the Supreme Court raises the risk of violence against Christian communities. In 2013, a Muslim mob torched Christians’ homes and businesses in Joseph Colony, Lahore after a Christian was falsely accused of “blasphemy”.

Aasia’s Bibi herself, her family and Christians across Pakistan today are living under the fear of reprisals.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Aasia Bibi of “blasphemy” and ordered her immediate release from prison on Wednesday 31 October.

In a dramatic turnaround, the Christian mother who had faced execution after being convicted of “blasphemy” in 2010 has been saved from death row by a three-judge panel of the country’s highest court. Aasia reportedly told her lawyer, “I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really? I just don’t know what to say, I am very happy, I can’t believe it.”

Aasia had always maintained her innocence and insisted that she was falsely accused of insulting Muhammad by Muslim female field labourers with whom she worked. They had refused to drink water she had fetched because she was a Christian, and she defended her faith.

She was found guilty of “defiling the name of Muhammad” under Section 295-C of the Pakistani Penal code in 2010, which is a capital offence. Previous efforts to appeal her verdict in the Supreme Court had been delayed. Aasia Bibi spent eight years on death row and nine years altogether in prison.

The court’s ruling stated that “the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt”. The judges also asserted, “it is not for the individuals, or a gathering (mob), to decide as to whether any act falling within the purview of Section 295-C has been committed or not”.

Amnesty International has praised the “landmark verdict”. A spokesperson said, “The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country’s most vulnerable minorities.”

It seems highly unlikely that Aasia or her family will be able to safely stay in Pakistan. Even Muslim politicians who have spoken out in support her case have been murdered. A number of countries, understood to include Italy, France, Spain and Germany, have offered her asylum in the event of her release.