The Supreme Court of Pakistan has absolved on Wednesday the Christian Asia Bibi, judged for blasphemy, and has annulled the sentence of death that had been imposed under the accusation of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in 2009, amid threats by extremist groups that they asked for his execution. "The death sentence is annulled, Asia Bibi is acquitted of the charges," Supreme Court President Saqib Nisar said while reading the appeal ruling.
Nisar, in front of a three-judge tribunal, has indicated that if there are no other charges against the Christian, "it can be released." The announcement of the sentence has taken place between strong security measures, with riot police officers and specialists in deactivating bombs at the entrance of the headquarters of the highest judicial body. To maintain security, commandos of the anti-terrorist corps, unarmed, were deployed inside the courtroom.
Bibi, mother of five children, was denounced in 2009 by some women who claimed that he had insulted Islam during an argument in a water well in the Punjab (east of the country) and was sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy. The Christian lost the appeal filed before the High Court of Lahore, capital of Punjab, in 2014, and in 2015 the Supreme Court stopped the execution after accepting that it would study its appeal, whose first hearing, set for 2016, was postponed after the recusal of one of the judges. The Pakistani Supreme Court studied the appeal on April 8 of Bibi's death sentence and reserved the verdict, noting that there were contradictions in the statements of the witnesses.
The radical political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) threatened that day with "dangerous consequences" to the judges if Asia Bibi was declared innocent. A few days later, thousands of Islamists demanded its execution in different Pakistani cities.
The hard Pakistani anti-blasphemy law was established in the British colonial era to avoid religious clashes, but in the 1980s several reforms sponsored by the dictator Zia-ul-Haq favored the abuse of this norm. Since then, there have been a thousand accusations for blasphemy, a crime that in Pakistan may carry capital punishment, although nobody has ever been executed for this crime.
Bibi's case has provoked international outrage, but in Pakistan it has become a cause for Islamist groups and parties and has caused at least two murders. One of them, the former governor of Punjab, Salman Tasir, was killed by one of his bodyguards in 2011 for publicly defending Bibi's cause. The bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 and then buried as a hero. The second was that of a Christian Minority Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, who was shot dead on the doorstep of his home in 2011 for defending Bibi and opposing the anti-blasphemy legislation.