The Case of Asia Bibi
Aasiya Noreen, better known as Asia Bibi, is a Christian woman from Punjab sentenced to death in 2010 on charges of blasphemy in the state of Pakistan. After appeals to the Lahore High Court, President Mamnoon Hussain and the international community at large, Bibi was finally acquitted by Supreme Court Of Pakistan last month. The verdict was heralded as a landmark case for religious minority rights by nongovernmental organisations the world over, but all is not yet well for Bibi. She has been placed on a no-fly list by the government until her case can be reviewed, which may take some years, as part of a deal aimed at clamping down on the nationwide protests. Bibi’s lawyer was flown out to the Netherlands by the United Nations who feared for his life, and two leading politicians have been murdered for speaking in defence of Bibi, including Pakistan’s first Christian cabinet member. Public opinion is not on Bibi’s side, either. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets calling for her beheading, and some ten million Pakistanis have said they would voluntarily kill her themselves for her alleged blasphemy.
From an external perspective, the snapshot that this case gives of Pakistani political life is rather alarming. The faith of the nation is Sunni Islam, from which these overzealous sacrilege laws stem. There are, however, inconsistencies between official legislation and predominant theological thought. The Hanafi school of fiqh, or legal theory, which reportedly serves as the model for the Pakistani legal system, states that blasphemy is not punishable by death, not least because neither atheism nor adherence to other religions are capital offences, even though these are more abhorrent to Islam than even blasphemy. This contradiction explains that the laws on the books are frequently used as tools to oppress religious minorities, as well as to provide a legal basis for corrupt and false allegations made for personal reasons since no corroborating evidence is needed other than witness testimony.
With Bibi’s fate hanging in the balance, the United Kingdom has refused to grant her asylum amidst fears that it would cause unrest in Britain amongst certain communities, as well as risking attacks on embassies abroad. Several other nations, including France and Spain, have offered asylum, bringing increased scrutiny to the UK decision. All signs point to Bibi being in mortal danger unless she can immediately leave the country, but with the Red Zone (the site of the most crucial political institutions in Pakistan) on lockdown, her case is looking increasingly dire.