The message is final and irrevocable. Asia Bibi has eventually won the battle against the self-appointed guardians of Pakistan’s law on blasphemy. A Christian woman and mother of four daughters in a sometimes wildly theocratic country, she is today a free citizen after having brazened out a rough patch ~ in the death row ~ for as long as nine years. The Supreme Court has spoken in her favour bravely and well. On closer reflection, Tuesday’s verdict is a robust iteration of the acquittal order that was pronounced on 31 October last year. Prudence would suggest that the matter ought to have ended there. Far from it. The fact that the original order was challenged by the fundamentalists ~ of a class that killed the liberal Governor of Punjab province on the same charge ~ is suggestive of a bow at the altar of the blasphemy law, a potentially mortal enactment if ever there was one. Beyond Asia Bibi’s personal triumph, the second order will be recorded by historians as a landmark victory of the apex judiciary and human rights activists, though Pakistan’s liberal fringe will miss the absence of the likes of Asma Jehangir.
Effectively enough, the law has been binned and clothed with the stout observation of Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one that must resonate in the echo chambers of the establishment ~ “On merit, this petition is dismissed,” said the Chief Justice, ending Asia Bibi’s final legal hurdle. “The petitioner has failed to point out any mistake in the original judgment.” In the net, a grave injustice has been avoided amidst the anxiety of a certain section to preserve and promote religious sensibilities.
Hence the punchline of Tuesday’s order ~ “Blasphemy is a serious offence, but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood was also not short of being blasphemous.” Thus did the court effect a sharp distinction between blasphemy per se and the truth of the matter, implicitly underlining the calculated malevolence of the orthodox segment of the religious establishment. “How is this a matter of religion?” was the searing query of the Chief Justice. “The beauty of a Muslim community is that non-Muslims are taken care of.” As a Christian, Asia Bibi was persecuted and even in the moment of freedom, the mental agony must rankle for some time yet. In a span of exactly three months, she has won her case twice.
There is thus a lesson to be drawn, and it shall be an essay towards Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan if the blasphemy law is abrogated.