Good news has recently been released concerning Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, a mother of five who is on death row for blasphemy. Her only “crime,” offering water to her Muslim co-workers from the same cup out of which she, a Christian, had drank.
Due to the overall volatility of the situation, rumors of Asia Bibi’s declining health began to surface around the internet in October of 2014. These rumors claimed that Asia Bibi was vomiting blood and was having difficulty walking. Similar rumors appeared in June of 2015 claiming that Asia Bibi’s health was so terrible that she might not live long enough to be executed.
Fortunately, these rumors were recently debunked by her attorney, Saif-ul-Malook, after he visited her in the Multan prison. Malook was contacted by several foreign news agencies claiming that his client’s health was worsening. When Malook and Asia Bibi’s husband visited her to verify the reports, they said she looked healthy and normal, but asked her if she had suffered from any serious illness. According to the World Watch Monitor report, Malook said that, “Asia has totally denied she ever suffered any serious illness since 2009 in prison.”
I also spoke with Mr. Malook yesterday, and he confirmed that Asia is in good health. He told me that his visit gave Asia hope. The prison officials were surprised that he was able to make Asia, a prisoner on the death row, smile, Mr. Malook said.
This is very encouraging news of her wellbeing as her execution for her Christian faith remains temporarily suspended as the Supreme Court of Pakistan prepares to review her case.
In another recent development, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a judgment, upholding the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri, the security guard who shot and killed former Governor Salman Taseer. Qadri confessed during the trial that he killed Taseer because Taseer had called for reforming Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and had met with Asia Bibi in an effort to seek a presidential pardon for her. Qadri pled not guilty, however, arguing that he was justified in killing Taseer because Taseer had blasphemed by criticizing the blasphemy laws.
Although many in Pakistan and around the world are praising the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision upholding the death sentence (and, yes, it is a good decision because it upheld Qadri’s conviction under both murder and terrorism charges), the Court’s lengthy reasoning in reaching that decision is alarming. The Court dedicated a significant portion of its judgment to discussing Qadri’s failure to meet his burden of proving that his defense of justification was valid because he had not verified whether Taseer had in fact committed blasphemy.
While framing the issue, the Court said:
[T]he issue involved in this case is not . . . whether anybody is allowed to commit blasphemy by defiling the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) or not . . . whether a person committing blasphemy can be killed by another person on his own . . . but the real question [is] . . . whether or not a person can be said to be justified in killing another person on his own on the basis of an unverified impression or an unestablished perception that such other person has committed blasphemy.
By framing the issue in such a way, the Court avoided the real issues, i.e., whether Qadri was justified in killing Taseer even if Taseer had blasphemed and whether speech that disparages the Prophet Muhammad’s name provides adequate provocation to justify murder.
Answering the issue that it framed, the Court reasoned, inter alia, that the appellant (the killer) had not made any effort to ascertain whether Taseer had in fact committed blasphemy. Such reasoning leads to an inference that, had Qadri ascertained that Taseer had blasphemed, Qadri would have been justified in killing Taseer.
Based on Qadri’s confession and all the available evidence, which Qadri did not deny, the Court could have upheld the conviction based on a simple holding that Pakistani law does not allow a private individual to take the law in his own hands by killing another individual, even if that individual had broken the law. It is the state’s job to punish somebody after due process.
Perhaps the Court was trying to appease the mullahs and their fundamentalist followers by its reasoning. Such appeasement is in vain, however, because the mullahs would have only been happy if the Court had released the murderer. Perhaps the Court had to go through such an analysis and give due deference to Islamic law because, after all, according to the Constitution of Pakistan, Sharia is part of Pakistan’s law. Nevertheless, the Court’s reasoning leaves it open for a future vigilante to argue the defense of justification if he does his due diligence to ascertain that the alleged blasphemer had indeed blasphemed before killing him.
While it is encouraging that Asia Bibi is in good health, she remains on death row and her attorney will be facing the same Supreme Court. We ask Christians around the globe to continue to pray for her release, for her safety, and for the safety of her supporters within Pakistan.
Our work in Pakistan to defend persecuted Christians will continue, vigorously fighting these unjust and inhuman blasphemy laws. We will also continue aggressively advocating across the globe for Asia Bibi’s freedom.
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