The decision by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to order the release of Asia Bibi and to judge that the accusation of blasphemy made against her by two women as completely without foundation, is greatly to be welcomed. The three judges who made the decision, and who did not mince their words, are to be commended for their bravery. Quite a few people who have supported Asia Bibi have already paid for it with their lives.
At the same time, notes of caution must be sounded.
First of all, Asia Bibi is still not safe. Pakistani mobs are calling for her death, and this poses a threat to herself and her family. It is likely that Asia and her family will have to live under a sort of witness protection programme for the rest of their lives, rather like the (very different) Sir Salman Rushdie. So, one cannot really claim that justice has been done to Asia Bibi.
Secondly, the blasphemy laws are still there, and it is likely that in the future some other poor soul will be accused of blasphemy, spend close to a decade in jail, only to be rescued by the Supreme Court at the end. Until Pakistan abolishes the blasphemy laws, it will never be a safe country for non-Muslims. Given the reaction to Asia Bibi’s acquittal, it is most unlikely that any politician will dare even to suggest abolition.
Clearly, the mob is what really counts in Pakistan. No lower court would do what the Supreme Court did, as they were all too frightened of the consequences. So much for justice being done without fear or favour. Pakistan is not a land where there is rule of law. This should be a matter of grave concern to all Pakistanis and a warning to all foreigners who are thinking of visiting. It is a stain on Pakistan’s reputation, and they need to be reminded of this. It is also an indication of Western hypocrisy that Western governments are prepared to overlook this. Readers of this magazine will know that its editorial line has always been that our own governments need to apply pressure on Pakistan, and could easily do so, by, for example, cutting sporting ties with the cricket-mad country.
It is still too early to celebrate the verdict. It is the right verdict, but it comes late in the day. Asia Bibi should never have been accused in the first place. Moreover, until she is somewhere safe, we should not think the case is over. In the meantime, kudos to the brave judges who have risked their lives for the sake of justice and truth; kudos to those in the West who have advocated for Asia Bibi for all these years, including the National Secular Society. Deep shame on all who have prevaricated. And deepest shame of all for the British government that has done nothing to help Asia Bibi at all.