By Robin Gomes
Christians in Pakistan are all praise for the Supreme Court’s decision and offered thanksgiving prayers for the definitive acquittal and freedom of Asia Bibi, the Catholic woman sentenced to death for blasphemy and acquitted by the Supreme Court on October 31.
Pakistan's Supreme Court on January 29 upheld the acquittal of Bibi, rejecting a review petition filed by Islamists who have called for her execution.
"Christian citizens, lovers of peace, thank God for the conclusion of this painful affair", Fr. Bonnie Mendes, senior priest and human rights expert in Pakistan told the Vatican’s Fides news agency.
Fr. Qaisar Feroz OFM Cap, Executive Secretary of the Commission for Social Communications of the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference (PCBC), also praised the courage of the Supreme court, the judge and lawyers.
"The decision of the Supreme Court on Asia Bibi’s acquittal is a milestone in the history of Pakistan to eradicate religious fundamentalism,” he told Fides. "Not only do we have to rejoice for the freedom of an innocent woman, but the efforts of the lawyers and the courage of the Supreme Court are to be appreciated, too".
Sabir Michael, a Christian human rights activist, praised the “sensible manner” in which the judicial system handled the matter “according to the rule of law". "This decision,” he said, “is a ray of hope for the minorities living in Pakistan, but there is still a lot of work to be done to promote and protect the rights of minorities".
He expressed the Christian community’s hope it will be a precedent for other such pending cases.
Joseph Francis, national director of the Center for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLASS), which helps persecuted religious minorities in Pakistan, told UCANEWS at a press briefing outside the court soon after the Jan. 29 verdict, "We hail the Supreme Court judges for being courageous in making such a historic judgment which will impact similar cases in days to come.”
Joining Francis at the press briefing was Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Malook who flew in from his asylum in the Netherlands for Tuesday’s verdict.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal confirmed that after the decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Asia Bibi is now a free citizen, can move and live a free life.
However, Francis is concerned for Bibi’s safety. He pointed out that "firebrand clerics have called for her murder”. “She cannot live freely as other citizens,” he said, adding minorities are encouraged by liberal Muslims like Malook who extended their support to victims of blasphemy.
The Cecil and Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF), a Catholic NGO, applauded the Supreme Court verdict as "historic, fair and impartial decision".
"Despite the landmark judgment in this case, CICF continues to demand of the authorities to revisit Pakistan's blasphemy laws and to take concrete measures to prevent their misuse, which is drastically affecting the lives of both Muslim and non-Muslim Pakistanis," the foundation said in a press statement.
Samson Salamat, the Christian chairman of the interreligious Rawadari Tehreek (Movement for Tolerance), demanded a penalty against the cleric who falsely accused Bibi of blasphemy, saying “he should be tried for lying, misguiding a court, imprisoning an innocent woman for nine years and endangering her life.”
Salamat also demanded that the apex court question the lower courts for denying justice to Bibi. He praised the Pakistani government for “arresting extremists who were complicit in spreading anarchy in the country and holding the state hostage." (Source: Fides, UCANEWS)