The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Wednesday overturned the 2010 blasphemy conviction and death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman, for failure to proffer enough evidence that Bibi indeed committed the crime.
The court’s decision rested on Pakistan’s Constitution and a 2016 decision in which the court emphasized that the state is “to ensure that no innocent person is compelled or constrained to face an investigation or a trial on the basis of false or trumped up allegations regarding commission of such an offence.”
Bibi’s conviction stemmed from an altercation with her Muslim women coworkers, who said they would not drink water from Bibi because she was not pure enough. Heated words were exchanged and later falsely exaggerated to incriminate Bibi. The trial court convicted her of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad. Though Bibi initially confessed to the crime, she claimed at trial that the confession was false and a result of coercion and undue influence.
Ultimately, the court said there simply was not enough evidence to convict Bibi of the heinous crime, noting that the prosecution’s evidence consisted only of 2 witness statements and the contested extra-judicial confession.
The court’s judgment opened with explanation of the principles of Islam and the importance of teaching and learning tolerance:
Tolerance is the basic principle of Islam. It is a religious and a moral duty and further relates to … the fundamental freedom of thought, conscience and belief. … Islam may tolerate anything but it teaches zero tolerance for injustice, oppression, and violation of the rights of other human beings the Quran speaks about, from the very beginning. Freedom of religion has been guaranteed by Islam. It prohibits coercion in matters of faith and belief.
The court acknowledged the seriousness of the alleged crime, saying: “[n]o one could be allowed to defy the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad be (صلى الله عليه وسلم) nor could a person guilty of disrespecting the Holy Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) let off scot-free.” However, it countered the statement to emphasize the country’s interest in preventing false accusations from leading to convictions: “unless proven guilty, through a fair trial, as provided for in the Constitution and the law, every person is considered innocent, irrespective of their creed, caste and colour.”