May 10, 2019
Asia Bibi‘s long and highly publicized ordeal is finally over – she has been allowed to leave Pakistan. Bibi, a Christian, was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. However, she was acquitted by the Supreme court in October last year after the prosecution failed to submit valid evidence against her.
Bibi’s acquittal sparked protests by religious fundamentalists across the country, and despite being acquited by the highest court in the country, Bibi was not allowed to leave Pakistan. The review petition against Bibi was also dismissed by the Supreme Court, but she was forced to remain in Pakistan until she quietly left for Canada on Wednesday. Such is the sensitivity of the matter that the government is tight-lipped about Bibi’s departure and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to confirm she was in Canada for security reasons.
Bibi is one of the more fortunate victims of Article 295-C of the constitution: unlike many others accused of blasphemy, after spending eight years in prison, she was able to flee the country. There are still dozens of people accused of blasphemy languishing behind bars in until their cases can be heard. The lower courts do not like to go against public sentiment and in most cases, despite the evidence against them being weak, the accused are given death sentences. The case of Professor Junaid Hafeez is a classic example. Hafeez, a lecturer at a government university in Punjab, was charged with blasphemy because of a Facebook post he made in 2013, and since then his case has been pending in the lower courts and the judge presiding over the case has been replaced six times. His lawyer, Rashid Rehman, was murdered in broad daylight after he refused to abandon the case.
Despite the prevalence of people being wrongly accused of blasphemy, Pakistan is still not ready to embrace reform. Hafeez is in solitary confinement and his misery is likely to continue indefinitely. The unsung hero of the Bibi case, the lawyer Saif ul Malook, who courageously fought for her acquittal, told this correspondent that in future he may take up the case of Hafeez. Malook is considered the best lawyer to defend people accused of blasphemy. He is immensely courageous and his knowledge of the law and the prosecution system is unrivaled. But what about the other people who are still waiting for justice to be served and why are their cases not getting media attention?