November 1, 2018, Washington, D.C. — The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) welcomes the decision by Pakistan’s Supreme Court to vacate the conviction and death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. Bibi was convicted in 2010 of insulting the Prophet of Islam during an argument with her neighbors.
“This was a courageous decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and long overdue,” said RFI president Dr. Tom Farr. “Asia Bibi’s travail was the result of a deeply unjust law that has claimed many innocent victims. As the extremist reaction to the Court’s decision shows, the principle underlying the law – that Islam must be defended by violence – feeds extremism and instability. It is time for Pakistan to repeal its anti-blasphemy law.”
Bibi had been charged with violating Section 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code, a statute that prohibits insulting the Prophet and carries a mandatory death penalty. Nearly half of those charged under this statute have been Christians, who constitute only about four percent of Pakistan’s population. While Wednesday’s ruling did not question the legitimacy of Section 295-C, the opinion criticized the way the statute has been applied to oppress religious minorities.
In 2011, the Muslim governor of the Punjab was assassinated because he sought a pardon for Bibi. Following Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision, the leader of an extremist political party called for a military coup and declared the high court’s judges to be apostates who must be killed.
“The calls for rebellion, anarchy, and assassinations by fringe agitators signify the pressing need for Pakistan’s legitimate Islamic scholars to provide the guidance and leadership its people need,” said Ismail Royer, a research and program associate with RFI’s Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team.
Last week, RFI co-sponsored with the Woodrow Wilson Center a panel discussion that analyzed the role of Islamic law in Pakistan and focused on the blasphemy law.
Royer is the author of a recent monograph on Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which concludes that applying the law to non-Muslims “promotes harm: mob violence, disrespect for the law, oppression of minorities and the poor, and damage to Islam’s reputation.” The monograph calls on Pakistan to stop enforcing the statute against religious minorities.
The Religious Freedom Institute (RFI) works to secure religious freedom for everyone, everywhere. The RFI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, D.C.
Media Contact: Jeremy P. Barker