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US report calls Aasia Bibi’s acquittal a ‘landmark decision’

Updated May 10, 2019

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An official US report calls the Pakistan Supreme Court’s order to release Aasia Bibi a “landmark decision”. — File
An official US report calls the Pakistan Supreme Court’s order to release Aasia Bibi a “landmark decision”. — File

WASHINGTON: An official US report calls the Pakistan Supreme Court’s order to release Aasia Bibi a “landmark decision” and notes that Prime Minister Imran Khan and other Pakistani political leaders are also recognising the growing phenomena of false blasphemy accusations.

Read: Supreme Court acquits Aasia Bibi, orders immediate release

The annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also urges Washington to encourage Islamabad to create the National Commission for Minorities’ Rights as mandated by the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision.

The report, which is distributed by the US State Department, was released days before Islamabad announced on Wednesday that Aasia Bibi has moved out of Pakistan to a country where she could not be harmed by religious extremists.

Read: Aasia Bibi leaves Pakistan, 'safely reunited' with family

The Supreme Court acquitted Aasia Bibi — a Christian woman and farm labourer — of blasphemy charges in October 2018 after a lower court sentenced her to death in 2010.

Observers optimistic about reform under new government

“The Supreme Court’s landmark decision criticised the lower court judges and prosecutors for pursuing falsely accused blasphemy cases that did not meet the requirements of Pakistan’s evidentiary rules,” the US report observes.

USCIRF points out that in 2018 “some political leaders, including Prime Minister Khan, began publicly recognising the growing phenomena of false blasphemy accusations being weaponised to strip members of minority communities of their property or employment”.

The report notes that such false accusations were mentioned in the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Aasia Bibi case as well as by the Islamabad High Court in its 2018 judgment on a blasphemy case.

USCIRF also mentions that in March 2018 the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights put forth proposals to punish those ma­­king false blasphemy accusations to the Council on Islamic Ideology. But the report regrets that “few pol­iticians have been willing to call for repealing or amending the blasphemy law for fear of retribution by extremists”.

Commenting on the judgment, the report acknowledges that the SC highlighted “institutional biases” faced by minorities accused of blasphemy, but it also notes that the decision “justified and defen­ded Pakistan’s blasphemy laws”.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2019