Almost after a decade, Aasia Bibi’s ordeal came to an end when the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her of the blasphemy charges dismissing the review petition against her. But shortly after the ruling, a group of protesters mainly belonging to the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) blocked the main road linking the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Similar gatherings and protests were also reported from Karachi and Peshawar. Although Pakistan government has reassured that ‘Aasia is a free woman now’ and she can choose to go anywhere, even a foreign country. Is there a larger politics behind the Judgment? What it implies about the notorious blasphemy law of Pakistan?
In 2009 Aasia Bibi was falsely accused of blasphemy. She was put behind bars and eventually sentenced to death in 2010. After enduring imprisonment for a long time for no fault of hers, the Pakistan Supreme Court finally overturned her conviction in October 2018. This decision sparked violent protests by religious hardliners who called for her death. It has to be noted that two prominent Pakistani politicians Salman Tahseer (ex-Punjab governor), and Shahbaz Bhatti (ex-minorities minster) who tried to help her and reform the blasphemy law were also assassinated in the process.
The religious hardliners called off the protests only after the Imran Khan government banned Aasia Bibi from leaving the country. Due to the threat to her life, she remained under protection and was a transferred to a secret location in Islamabad after her acquittal. For the past so many years, Aasia Bibi’s life languished in jail and now when she is free, there is no guarantee of her security in Pakistan or a mechanism in place to transport her to a neutral country which has offered her asylum.
The question is why the Imran Khan government decided to free her when the underlying fact is that Imran Khan voiced his support to the blasphemy law during his election campaigns? When Aasia Bibi was freed of the blasphemy charges, there were massive protests by the religious fanatics led by TLP in most parts of Pakistan. Clips of TLP leaders calling for the death of the three judges terming them “Wajibul-Katal” (Liable to death) and anti-army slogans calling for a revolt against Army Chief General Qamar Bajwa were playing on the social media. They even called for a campaign to topple the Imran Khan government.
The protestors had to pay a heavy price by daring to directly attack the army with hate speeches. Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the nation. It led to crack down and arrests.
Khadim Rizvi, the leader of TLP was arrested and his twitter account suspended citing violation of social media norms. The acquittal of Aasia Bibi could be an overt strategy by the Pakistan government to warn the radical groups to steer clear of their way and also to keep them under check.
The dreadful blasphemy law in Pakistan is mostly used for settling personal scores or for political vendettas. The political parties in Pakistan do not dare to speak against the controversial blasphemy law as it can be politically very risky for them. Even the recent Aasia Bibi Judgment does not completely negate the ‘blasphemy law’.
Aasia Bibi’s is not the first case; Christians and other minorities have been persecuted to death for blasphemy in the past, and some have also managed to flee the country. It reflects how far bigotry has spread and how deep the bloodlust has seeped. Today, neither the ruling Pak government nor the opposition is ready to talk about the amending this law. They are afraid of the backlash by religious parties and organizations adhering to a right-wing hardline ideology. Pakistan is an Islamic republic formed on Islamic ideology. One of the TLP leaders had underlined “the minorities in Pakistan have to live like a minority”, their fate will always be tied to the whims and fancies of the ones who rule. The minorities in Pakistan will remain a soft target for the religious fanatics.
Script: Dr. Zainab Akhter, Analyst On Pakistan