A Pakistani court’s decision to uphold the death sentence against a Christian woman convicted on blasphemy charges is a grave injustice, Amnesty International said.
The Lahore High Court today rejected the appeal against the death sentence imposed on Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman.
“This is a grave injustice. Asia Bibi should never have been convicted in the first place – still less sentenced to death – and the fact that she could pay with her life for an argument is sickening,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
“There were serious concerns about the fairness of Asia Bibi’s trial, and her mental and physical health has reportedly deteriorated badly during the years she has spent in almost total isolation on death row. She should be released immediately and the conviction should be quashed.”
Asia Bibi’s lawyer said after today’s verdict that he will file an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The story does not end here
An editorial in Pakistan’s The Nation opines that the, “courts in Pakistan must start recognising the fallibility of sworn testimonies. Asia Bibi was convicted on the basis of the testimony of a cleric and other women in the village, even though charges should also be leveled against her accusers for first marginalizing her and then using courts to settle their personal scores against a mother of five. The lack of proper investigative techniques means that evidence is often doctored, and witnesses coerced for personal or ideological reasons in order to spin the case one way or another.”
The Daily Times writes that,”the story does not end here as a series of violent events ensued from this case and continue to haunt us, with some high profile figures like Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti — the then Punjab governor and the federal minister of minorities respectively — having lost their lives for standing up for the victim and voicing against the abusive use of the blasphemy law. The fact that attempts to repeal it have been thwarted, with some paying for it with their lives or receiving life threats, logic demands alternate ways to provide justice. Is there any law that can save a person who has been falsely accused? And is there is any punishment for the one who falsely accuses someone? Or will the clouds of such travesties of justice permanently loom over our heads? One can find plenty of cases where witch-hunts, vigilante mobs, land grabs and assassinations have been carried out under the umbrella of this law.
The Gojra, Badami Bagh, Gujranwala incidents, the recent killing of one blasphemy accused and wounding of another in Adiala Jail and many other similar events are blatantly scars on the face of our history and no one accused of blasphemy, rightly or wrongly, is safe. It is more than shameful for this increasingly intolerant and bigoted society that the perpetrators behind such heinous crimes are treated as heroes while the principles of justice stand paralysed. Parliament needs to take steps to save society from an incremental breakdown of justice because of the blasphemy law while providing safeguards for the falsely accused, whose number is growing, to our permanent shame and ignominy.”