PAKISTAN: Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has death penalty conviction overturned

By Sophia Saifi and James Griffiths

 

CNN (31.10.2018) – https://cnn.it/2JsxC5V – Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted a Christian woman who has been on death row for almost eight years on blasphemy charges.

 

Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to hang after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammed during an argument the year before with Muslim colleagues.

 

The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Asia Bibi had touched because she was not Muslim. At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn’t like her “taking revenge.”

 

She won her appeal against the conviction and subsequent death sentence on Wednesday.

 

The court quoted Shakespeare’s “King Lear” in its ruling, saying Asia Bibi appeared to have been “more sinned against than sinning.”

 

“Even if there was some grain of truth in the allegations leveled in this case against the appellant still the glaring contradictions in the evidence of the prosecution highlighted above clearly show that the truth in this case had been mixed with a lot which was untrue,” the ruling said.

 

David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, an organization that lobbies on behalf of Christian minorities, said in a statement that “we are breathing a sigh of relief today.”

 

“These charges stemmed from her Christian identity as well as false accusations against her,” he said. “We are hopeful that Pakistan will now take additional steps to offer religious freedom and basic human rights throughout the country.”

 

Islamist movement Tehreek-e Labbaik had previously vowed to take to the streets if Bibi was released, and protests broke out in Islamabad and Lahore soon after the ruling was announced.

 

Within hours, the protests were large enough that government officials in the cities were urging people to stay inside and avoid adding to the chaos.

 

Controversial law

Under the Pakistan penal code, the offense of blasphemy is punishable by death or life imprisonment. Widely criticized by international human rights groups, the law has been used disproportionately against minority religious groups in the country and to go after journalists critical of the Pakistani religious establishment.

 

Her case has attracted widespread outrage and support from Christians worldwide, and condemnation from conservative Islamist groups in Pakistan, who have demanded the death penalty be carried out and threatened widespread protests in the event of her being freed.

 

The case has been extremely divisive within Pakistani society, splitting liberals and conservatives and leaving even many supporters afraid to speak out on Asia Bibi’s behalf.

 

In 2011, senior politician Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard for voicing support for Asia Bibi and condemning the country’s stringent blasphemy laws. His killer, Mumtaz Qadri, immediately surrendered to police and was later executed, becoming a martyr for many hardline Islamists.

 

At his funeral in 2016, thousands converged on the northern city of Rawalpindi as the Pakistani media was blacked out to prevent riots. Leaders of prominent Islamist political parties attended the funeral as supporters of Qadri carried signs in celebration of his “bravery.”

 

Qadri’s grave, in the capital city of Islamabad, has since become a shrine for those supporting Asia Bibi’s death sentence.

Polarizing case

Amnesty International researcher Rabia Mehmood said that one of the reasons the Asia Bibi case has become so polarizing and controversial is the Pakistani government’s failure to take “effective measures to curb the campaign of hate and violence incited by certain groups in the country following her conviction, in fact the state has shown immense tolerance for the narratives of hate.”

 

She previously highlighted a tweet by a media organization linked to Tehreek-e Labbaik, which last year led to violent anti-blasphemy protests, warning the court to “think carefully before making any decision.”

 

In May this year, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Ahsan Iqbal, was shot and wounded in his shoulder in an incident police sources linked to the 2017 demonstrations.

 

“We can only hope that (the Asia Bibi case) becomes a watershed moment when it comes to blasphemy laws in Pakistan,” Mehmood said.

 

A verdict in Asia Bibi’s favor, sends “out a message of hope and will be a step in addressing human rights abuses, religiously motivated discrimination and violence targeted at religious minorities and even Muslims who are accused of committing blasphemy.”

 

CNN understands that at least two Western countries have offered Asia Bibi asylum once she has been released. Such a move will likely be greeted by mass protests by Islamist groups, which could turn violent.

 

It will also prove a key test for new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who courted the country’s religious right during his successful campaign and has voiced support for blasphemy laws.

 

Khan should “take a stance against the intimidation of Tehreek-e-Labbaik, whose leaders have demanded that Khan fulfill his promises to make Pakistan an ‘Islamic state’,” Pakistani journalist Rafia Zakaria wrote for CNN last month.

 

“Instead of snubbing the international community, one that Islamists see as impinging on Pakistan’s move toward a full theocracy, Khan could emphasize the need to embrace it and to work with it. In other words, Khan could choose to stand with the innocent woman instead of the rabid and bloodthirsty extremists.”

 

Religious battle

Outside of Pakistan, Asia Bibi’s case has become a rallying call for many Christians, particularly Catholics.

 

Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) led prayers for Asia Bibi’s release last week in the UK, at a ceremony attended by her husband Ashiq Masih and daughter, Eisham Ashiq.

 

“We have prayed 10 years now for our sister, Asia, and I am confident that our prayers will be heard, and the judgment will go in favor of Asia, her family and the entire Pakistani Christian community,” Father Emmanuel Yousaf said in a statement from the group.

 

The family met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in February, during which the Catholic leader reportedly described Asia Bibi as a “martyr,” according to ACN President Alessandro Mondeduro.

 

Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict, previously called for Asia Bibi’s release.

 

In her 2012 book “Get Me Out of Here,” Asia Bibi included a letter to her family urging them not to “lose courage or faith in Jesus Christ.”

 

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Also:

HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries: http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/forb/ 
List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/  




SOMALIA: First prosecution for female genital mutilation

By Emma Batha

 

Thomson Reuters Foundation (26.07.2018) – https://tmsnrt.rs/2v4tfY4– Somalia’s Attorney General Ahmed Ali Dahir announced on Wednesday the country’s first ever prosecution against female genital mutilation (FGM) following the death of a 10-year-old girl, an adviser to the government said.

 

Ifrah Ahmed, who advises Somalia on gender issues, said the attorney general was sending a team of investigators to find out more about the death of the girl, Deeqa, who suffered severe bleeding after her mother took her to a traditional cutter.

 

The announcement was made at a conference on FGM attended by officials, religious leaders and journalists, which was co-hosted in Mogadishu by the Global Media Campaign to End FGM and the Ifrah Foundation.

 

“We are ready to take it to court,” the attorney general was quoted as saying on Twitter by the organisers.

 

Deeqa’s death has prompted campaigners to renew calls for Somalia to pass a law on FGM, which affects 98 percent of women in the east African country – the highest rate in the world, according to U.N. data.

 

“This is really a defining moment for Somalia,” Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohamed Gulaid told the conference organisers in a video posted on Twitter on Thursday.

 

Somalia’s constitution prohibits FGM, but efforts to pass legislation to punish offenders have been stalled by parliamentarians afraid of losing votes.

 

Ahmed confirmed news of the attorney general’s announcement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Mogadishu.

 

“He said they had opened the case in Mogadishu and that they would investigate and deal with the parents,” said Ahmed, whose charity, the Ifrah Foundation, campaigns to end FGM in Somalia.

 

“He told the conference he would bring the family to justice.”

 

Global campaigners against FGM, which affects around 200 million girls and women worldwide, welcomed the news.

 

“This is massive,” said Nimco Ali, a prominent Somali-born British activist.

 

Somalia does not have a law against FGM, but campaign group 28 Too Many said offenders could still be prosecuted under the country’s Penal Code, which makes it a criminal offence to cause hurt to another.

 

Many girls in Somalia undergo the most extreme form of the ancient ritual in which the external genitalia are removed and the vaginal opening is sewn up.

 

Deeqa was taken by her mother to a traditional circumciser on July 14 in central Somalia’s Galmudug state and died in hospital two days later.

 

Her father was quoted by international media this week as defending the practice, saying he believed his daughter was “taken by Allah”.

 

Many people believe the ritual is an important part of their tradition and a religious obligation, although it is not mentioned in the Koran.

 

Organisers said the attorney general had also urged Somalia’s religious leaders to use radio and TV to speak out against FGM.

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If you want to be regularly informed about different violations of human rights in the world, click here for a free subscription to our newsletters!

Also:

HRWF database of news and information on over 70 countries:http://hrwf.eu/newsletters/womens-rights-gender-equality/

List of hundreds of documented cases of believers of various faiths in 20 countries: http://hrwf.eu/forb/forb-and-blasphemy-prisoners-list/