By Muhammad Huzaifa Elahi
Pakistan’s treatment of minorities has long been the subject of international scrutiny. The evolution of the Pakistani constitution has an ingrained precedence of religious discrimination. The name itself, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is an accurate description of who the laws are formulated to protect and favor. A microcosm of this discrimination was unveiled in front of the world with the case of a Christian woman, Asia Noreen. Her case is a manifestation of a broader problem with historical roots. Tracing the situational context is the only way to fully come to terms with the underlying systemic problems facing countless Asia’s among Pakistan’s minorities.
The Asia Case
On June 14th, 2009, Asia Noreen, also known as Asia Bibi, embroiled in a scuffle with her neighbors. Asia, a Christian mother of five, took water from a water bucket after a long day of harvesting fruit to quench her thirst. Her Muslim neighbors considered this unacceptable due to her different religious beliefs and refused to drink from the bucket. They considered her impure due to her Christian faith and hence saw the water as contaminated. Subsequently, a heated argument broke out and she was accused of blasphemy for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Asia accused her neighbors of scheming against her and cited the case as a matter of people who didn’t like her “taking revenge”. In November 2010, she was convicted of blasphemy at a trial court in Sheikhupura and sentenced to death under Section 295-C of Pakistan’s penal code. Asia Bibi became the first womanto fall prey to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The decision was upheld by the Lahore High Court in October 2014, but an appeal was accepted by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2015. The Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a host of other human rights organizations have singled out Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws for their discriminatory and unjust usage and nature.
On October 31st 2018, eight years after being convicted, Asia Bibi was acquitted of blasphemy charges by the Supreme Court. A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel made the landmark decision. Never before had the Supreme Court overseen a case under this section of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The Chief Justice elaborated on the decision: “keeping in mind the evidence produced by the prosecution against the alleged blasphemy committed by the appellant, the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.”
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