The recent decision to award Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize was a good one for women and a good one for Pakistan but the decision to sentence Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, to death was a bad one for all women, all minorities, people of all faiths, and Pakistan. The brutal killing of a well known Ahmadi Muslim, Latif Aalam Butt, in Attock on Thursday, underlines the importance of Pakistan returning again to Mohammed Ali Jinah’s belief in a society which respects and safeguards its minorities.
The story of these two women, and the death of Latif Aalam Butt, undeline the growing Islamisation of Pakistani society and the Talibanization of a country which was founded on principles of tolerance and co-existence.
The original death sentence imposed in November 2010 on Asia Bibi was because of alleged blasphemy.
Her appeal, heard this week, was heard in the court of Justice Anwar-ul-Haq along with Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi, with a large number of lawyers were present from both sides. Asia Bibi’s team of lawyers comprised of Sardar Tahir Khalil Sandhu, Chaudhry Naeem Shakir and Advocate S. K. Chaudhry.
A large number religious clerics including Qari Saleem who had initially brought forward the complaint against Asia Bibi were present in the court. Members of radical Islamic militant organizations were also present inside and outside the court premises creating an extremely tense atmosphere.
The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) is an independent, non-government, non-profit organization, dedicated to the eradication of injustice in society by advocating on behalf of the under-privileged, under represented and marginalized groups within Pakistan. They report that:
“The Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the defense and upheld the November 2010 verdict of the sessions court, and maintained the death penalty for Asia Bibi.
The Defense filed its written arguments exposing that the witnesses lacked credibility and the apparent construction of false accusations.
The court however held valid and credible the allegations of the two Muslim women who apparently witnessed the alleged blasphemy committed by Asia Bibi.
The verdict has been termed “a victory of Islam” by the Islamic Clerics who celebrated by congratulating each other and chanting religious slogans outside the Lahore High Court.
The appeal will now be taken to the Supreme Court the third and final level of Justice in Pakistan.
The Advocacy and Legal Aid team of The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) were present in the court during the proceedings.
Expressing disappointment and concern over the verdict Ms. Michelle Chaudhry President of The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) stated “We are disappointed and terribly upset over the decision of the Lahore High Court; it is an undoubted fact that in blasphemy cases the judges come under severe pressure and face life threatening circumstances which more than often cause them to be biased in their judgment; however we still have hope as we turn to the Supreme Court of Pakistan for Justice. We remain optimistic that the rule of law will prevail and Justice will be done. For now that is our only hope.”
The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pakistan is sliding toward extremism by Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea, Special to CNN:
Recall also that :
Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Minority Affairs Minister, and Salman Taseer, Punjab’s former governor, were both outspoken critics of the blasphemy conviction of Christian mother Asia Bibi, and both were gunned down in 2011.
The blasphemy law was originally introduced to appease extremists, but has instead stimulated an appetite for more. No Christian supports blasphemy but laws like these are not appropriate as a way of discouraging blasphemy.
Shahbaz Bhatti correctly observed that: “This law is creating disharmony and intolerance in our society.” The law legitimizes and arouses religious passions. Thatv is why Pakistan should repeal it. Let them show compassion to Asia Bibi and remove a law that allows cases like hers to reach the courts in the first place.She has already spent four harrowing years on death row – much in solitary confinement. Five earlier hearings had been cancelled and there has been intimidation of lawyers and judges.
All who care for justice and who oppose the execution of Asia Bibi should write to the Pakistan Ambassador and to the Chief Justice, Nasirul Mulk, calling for the Supreme Court to quickly arrange a review of this case, and the sentence, and to ensure Asia Bibi’s safety and care while she continues to languish in prison.