Asia Bibi’s Flight to Freedom

Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has been released from jail and is being flown away from Pakistan for security reasons.

Background

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan in South Asia is the sixth-most populous country with a population exceeding 212,742,631 people. The sovereign state of Pakistan was created in 1947 as an independent homeland for Indian Muslims.

The Pakistan Penal Code prohibits blasphemy against any recognized religion, providing penalties ranging from a fine to death. From 1967 to 2014, over 1,300 people have been accused of blasphemy. Over 60 people accused of blasphemy have been murdered before their respective trials were over, and prominent figures who opposed the blasphemy law have been assassinated.

On 31 October, Pakistan’s supreme court struck down the death sentence for blasphemy handed down to Christian woman Asia Bibi. The blasphemy charge from an incident in 2009, when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields. Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim, she should not touch the water bowl, and a fight erupted. A local imam then claimed Bibi insulted the Prophet Mohammed, a charge she has consistently denied.

Analysis

Pakistani Christian woman Aasia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy, has been freed from jail. Her lawyer said she is in a plane on her way to an undisclosed location, for security reasons.

Last week on 31 October, Pakistan's Supreme Court overturned Bibi's conviction and ordered her release, but she remained incarcerated as the government agreed to allow a review following right-wing protests over the bitterly divisive case.

A release order arrived on 7 November at the prison in the central city of Multan, where Bibi was detained, a prison official told AFP.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, had appealed for Britain or the United States to grant the family asylum, while her lawyer fled to the Netherlands.

Bibi's acquittal triggered massive protests and violent death threats against the judges involved. 

Assessment

Our assessment is that Asia Bibi’s release and flight to freedom is a strong indicator of a shift in the Pakistani governments approach to religious fundamentalists. We believe this could be the first of many progressive steps led by new prime minister Imran Khan.