By Ewelina U. Ochab
Last year has seen some positive developments in the fight against outdated blasphemy laws. For example, in Ireland, as part of a referendum, a majority voted against the remaining blasphemy laws. In Pakistan, although blasphemy laws still exist, the Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi who was held on the death row for eight years because of unsubstantiated allegations of blasphemy. These developments may suggest that things are starting to change.
Blasphemy laws seek to restrict speech that may be perceived as offensive to Prophets and holy personages. Despite a global movement to abolish blasphemy laws, the laws remain in place. In fact, at least thirteen countries still hand down the death penalty for offences committed in contravention of blasphemy laws.
Asia Bibi was unfortunate to have lived in such a country. Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman, had been on death row since 2010 after being found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed in an argument with another woman over a cup of water. After eight years she was given a second chance at justice. Ultimately, the Supreme Court found that the prosecutor had failed to establish, beyond reasonable doubt, that she was guilty of blasphemy. While the decision in Pakistan was welcomed by the international community, the protests that followed the decision show that one judgement is not enough to change a deep-rooted cultural issue.
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