Freedom, finally

Updated 31 Jan 2019

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ALMOST a decade after she was wrongly accused of blasphemy, Aasia Bibi was acquitted by the top court in October 2018. This Tuesday, the Supreme Court dismissed the final roadblock in the way of her freedom: a petition by a local cleric seeking review of the court’s judgement.

This clears the former death-row prisoner of all malicious charges. In strong, uncompromising words, the newly sworn-in Chief Justice Asif Khosa reiterated the court’s position. He voiced the court’s support of the farm labourer and mother of two, while casting doubt on the character and intentions of her accusers.

But freedom does not mean security: not for the judges and lawyer who braved the odds and acted according to the principles of their profession, not for the family members of the ill-accused who never gave up their struggle, and most certainly not for Aasia Bibi herself.

Also read: What you need to know about Aasia Bibi's trial

While the court may have freed her, it is now the government’s responsibility to make sure her life is out of harm’s way, as well as the lives of all those connected to the case.

Since the verdict was announced last year, Aasia Bibi was given protective custody, while her family went into hiding. It is now up to the government to facilitate either her safe exit from the country, or grant her security in the unlikely event she chooses to stay on.

A disturbing report sometime ago stated that extremists were going door to door to hunt down the most recognised blasphemy-related victim in the country. The case was an ugly reminder of how far the bigotry had spread, and how deep the bloodlust had seeped.

Take a look: The day Salman Taseer fell silent

It is unlikely that a poor Christian woman from rural Sheikhupura would ever have imagined her story would one day be given international headlines, and that so many major events in the country would be tied to her sentence in the past eight years. Two high-profile lives were lost in connection to the case — Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and miniorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti — and countless damage caused in the ensuing protests by the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, formed after Taseer’s killer was executed by the state.

While those with reason and heart celebrate her acquittal, let us not forget the scores of others languishing in jails over such wrongful allegations. And let us remember Mashal Khan, Shahzad, Shama, and all others who have lost their lives over false and malicious allegations by mobs.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2019