The decision of Pakistan’s Supreme Court to acquit Aasia Bibi of false charges of “blasphemy” is a courageous verdict in a country where the mere accusation of “blasphemy” is enough to incite vigilante killing. But it would be misleading to claim, as Amnesty International and others have, that this is a “landmark ruling” that will improve the plight of Pakistan’s Christian minority – or even the many Muslims – who are falsely accused of defiling the name of Muhammad.
It remains a crime under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code and carries a mandatory death penalty. Those who oppose Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws can themselves be accused of “blasphemy”.
Contradictory witness statements meant evidence against Aasia Bibi was not credible
The judgement is based on a mixture of sharia and Western-based law. But it is the latter, particularly the law of evidence, that has ultimately prevailed. The judges found that the massive contradictions in the statements of prosecution witnesses meant that they could not be considered “truthful witnesses”. There were significant discrepancies as to the place, number of persons present (ranging between 100 and 2,000) and even the date of a village meeting when Asia Bibi was alleged to have confessed to “blasphemy”.
The judgement affirmed “blasphemy” law but criticised it’s misuse
While the court ruling strongly defended Pakistan’s “blasphemy” laws, it was also strong in its criticism of their “misuse”, stating, “No one could be allowed to defy the name of the holy prophet Muhammad and be left unpunished, but there is another aspect of the matter; sometimes to fulfil nefarious designs the law is misused by individuals levelling false accusations of blasphemy. Sadly, since 1990, 62 people have been murdered as a result of blasphemy allegations, even before their trial could be conducted in accordance with the law.”
In other words, they upheld that Islamic “blasphemy” should be punished – but that only the state has the authority to try and punish such cases, or decide whether or not it is a malicious allegation.
False “blasphemy” accusations were made against Aasia Bibi
The Supreme Court dismissed the accusation against Aasia Bibi as a “concoction” and described her accusers as untrustworthy. Aasia was alleged to have said that “Muhammad had married his wife Khadija for her wealth and then discarded her”, and that “the Quran was not a divinely written book of God but a self-made book”, which the lower courts had deemed to constitute Islamic blasphemy.
The judges also drew attention to the fact that the original police complaint had been written by a lawyer, yet there was no lawyer in the village nor any record of anyone visiting the city, while the accusers claimed to have forgotten who the lawyer was. The judges observed, “It thus appears that something else was happening behind the scene and the actual movers of the present criminal case were some others who had never come to the fore.”
The implication is that these false allegations of blasphemy against Aasia Bibi were in fact pre-planned, rather than being simply a result of the Muslim women she had had an argument with seeking to act out of spite.
Does sharia law on “blasphemy” apply to non-Muslims?
What the court has not ruled on is, in fact, as important as what it has. In particular, there is a dispute within the Hanafi School of sharia, which is the predominant school observed in Pakistan, as to whether a non-Muslim can actually be executed for Islamic blasphemy. Abu Hanifa the founder of the Hanafi school himself said, “If a dhimmi [non-Muslim] insults the Holy Prophet, he will not be killed as punishment.” In recent years this issue has even been debated in the Pakistani press. Yet, the Supreme Court chose not to rule on this issue in Aasia Bibi’s appeal.