The Supreme Court usually makes the right call on cases of alleged blasphemy. It has never upheld a death sentence for blasphemy before because the evidence is at best circumstantial and the accusations usually proved tied to personal hatred or an attempt to steal property from the accused.
Will the Aasia Bibi case prove an exception?
The accounts vary as to precisely what happened in the incident involving the poor Christian woman - the mother of 5 young children - from the Sheikhupura area, who was sentenced to death in 2010. A cleric in the area received a complaint that Aasia had committed blasphemy after some Muslim women expressed anger towards her for drinking from the same water source as them.
Aasia Bibi herself has claimed this was revenge for a trivial quarrel. In November 2010, just over a year after the incident, a district judge in Sheikhupura sentenced her to death. The case against Aasia Bibi has been contested by many rights activists and according to legal experts, court records show numerous inconsistencies in the evidence presented. But in October 2014 the LHC dismissed Aasia's appeal and upheld the death sentence.
A clemency appeal to the president of Pakistan was made by her husband and her lawyer appealed to the Supreme Court, which in July 2015 suspended her death sentence until the appeals process could be completed.
Aasia Bibi has already spent seven years in jail and there was expectation on Thursday that the case would be decided justly and wisely, even if the culture of intimidation that has always surrounded the case made itself felt once again with the orthodox Lal Masjid clerics threatening to take to the streets in case Aasia Bibi were to be released.
With thousands of security personnel on alert in Islamabad, the Supreme Court punted on a possible release when one of the judges from the 3-member bench hearing the case recused himself from the case on the basis that he had heard the Salmaan Taseer murder case.
The appeal has now been postponed indefinitely.
The timing of the honourable judge's recusal is a curious one. He had known he would be part of the 3-member bench long before and could have withdrawn from hearing the case much earlier and allowed a new judge to be picked.
One also wonders where exactly the conflict of interest comes in. One could have ruled for the death penalty for Mumtaz Qadri on the simple basis that murder has the punishment of death in Pakistan without having to give an opinion on Aasia Bibi's case.
It is regrettable that the case of one woman has become so intertwined with political and religious sentiment that judges feel their verdicts will be seen as compromised.
The blame for that lies in a society that has accepted the blasphemy laws being manipulated [DPN believes that the blame lies in a society that has accepted blasphemy laws] for personal ends and an extremist element that threatens, and in many cases commits, violence against those who merely want the laws to be amended so that false accusations are not so easy to make. It is now past time to develop the will and the courage to set right what is wrong.
Source: The News, Editorial, October 15, 2016
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