Muslim clerics warn of protests if Asia Bibi is released

The Supreme Court in Lahore, Pakistan, received a written demand, signed by 150 Islamic clerics, for the immediate execution of imprisoned Christian woman Asia Bibi in the days before her latest appeal, it has emerged. 

As judges prepared to hear what had been reported to be the woman’s final appeal against the death sentence handed down in answer to a blasphemy charge against her, an umbrella group for Sunni clerics, the Ittehad Council, issued its demand, pointing out that “as per Koran and Sunnah, blasphemy is punishable by death only [and] any relief to Bibi will be contrary to teachings of the Koran and Sunnah”.


The religious leaders also sounded a warning against freeing the woman or allowing her to flee abroad. “If any attempt is made to send the blasphemer abroad, millions of faithful Muslims will take to the streets against the government,” the statement said. 

Mrs Bibi’s case was once again postponed when a judge of the Supreme Court panel refused to hear it, citing a possible conflict of interest.

As with other pronouncements on Asia Bibi’s alleged blasphemy, the latest statement failed to deal with the glaring weakness in the case against her, that of it being built entirely on the allegations of two Muslim witnesses without any other evidence, posing the risk that the charge and death sentence are the result of a dispute or personal vendetta. Human rights groups have repeatedly pointed out that numerous blasphemy cases begin in this way, such as the high profile case of Rimsha Masih in 2012. In this case, burned pages of Koranic text which were presented as evidence, that  damned her in the eyes of fundamentalists, were ultimately shown to have been produced by her accuser, a Muslim cleric, Hafiz Mohammed Khalid Chishti. Ironically, with the hard evidence of burned pages accompanied by witness testimonies of Chisti’s behaviour, the cleric was subsequently acquitted, while Rimsha Masih was forced to flee abroad.