Pakistan's Supreme Court finally ruled that Bibi had been falsely accused and that she was to be freed in October of 2018, but widespread and often violent reaction among the country’s Muslim population led to the Christian not being allowed to leave the country and the court’s decision being legally challenged.
Thankfully, and despite great domestic pressure, the Supreme Court upheld its decision confirming Asia Bibi’s freedom and allowing her to leave the country – and potentially to travel to Canada where her children have already been relocated.
The harrowing years of legal turmoil and possible execution for the young Christian field laborer and mother of five began in 2009 when Muslim co-workers who had sent her to bring water to them were upset that she drank some water from the same source, claiming that as a non-Muslim she had defiled it. When an argument erupted, the Muslim co-workers brought charges against Bibi of blaspheming the prophet Mohamad – using a notorious law that is often brought against non-Muslims.
In its 56-page ruling, however, Pakistan's highest court found the accusation to be false saying “She appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare's King Lear, 'more sinned against than sinning.'” Pakistan’s Chief Justice, Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, went as far as to say that Bibi’s accusers were guilty of perjury and if the case hadn’t been so sensitive, they would themselves have been jailed for life. Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, who had to flee the country due to death threats, said the decision was a victory for Pakistan’s constitution and rule of law.
However, as Amnesty International has announced: “After nine years behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit, it is difficult to see this long overdue verdict as justice. But she should now be free to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice.”
Asia Bibi remained hidden under government protection after the Supreme Court upheld her release this week, but after being transferred to the capital Islamabad yesterday, Bibi was expected to leave the country as soon as possible for Canada where she has now been offered asylum. News sources quote a close friend as saying Bibi is overjoyed at her freedom and had said: "I am really grateful to everybody, now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free, and I will be going to hug my daughters.”
Bibi’s faith appears to have remained strong throughout her ordeal and in the 2012 book, Get Me Out of Here, that Bibi was helped to write, she included a letter to her family urging them not to “lose courage or faith in Jesus Christ.”
We can and should be grateful for this resolution of Asia Bibi’s situation, but this young Christian field worker’s case well illustrates the plight of many Christians in Pakistan who are, like Bibi herself, often poor, illiterate, and without connections – making them easy targets for religious persecution. The anti-Christian forces within Pakistani society may now turn on Christians who remain in the country, and even more of the ongoing persecution is likely. Some 187 other Pakistani Christians remain in prison on the same charge of blasphemy.
So, although the prayers of those who have faithfully remembered Asia Bibi over the last several years have finally been answered, now is no time to let down. We can and should give thanks for this young woman’s release, but we should also continue to remember the many Christians in Pakistan who still need our concern.
* Update: Asia Bibi arrived in Toronto on Tuesday, February 5th, and has now been reunited with her family in Canada.