Presumed Guilt

Asia Bibi’s appeal to the Lahore High Court was denied on Thursday, and the death penalty accorded to her still stands despite her lawyers citing lack of evidence to convict her of blasphemy. An appeal to the Supreme Court is the next step her lawyers will take, and might lead to charges being dropped as for Ayub Masih in 2002. But the fact remains that Asia Bibi has been in jail since 2010, and it may take years for the case to be cleared.
Courts in Pakistan must start recognising the fallibility of sworn testimonies. Asia Bibi was convicted on the basis of the testimony of a cleric and other women in the village, even though charges should also be leveled against her accusers for first marginalizing her and then using courts to settle their personal scores against a mother of five. The lack of proper investigative techniques means that evidence is often doctored, and witnesses coerced for personal or ideological reasons in order to spin the case one way or another.
The flaws in the blasphemy law, the repercussions they have against anyone who has been accused of blasphemy and the amount of cases that have little or no evidence proving that blasphemy was committed, mean that a revision of the laws is due. The law is based on the principal of innocent until proven guilty, yet in the case of blasphemy charges, the guilt of those that have been charged is accepted as fact, long before the case even goes to court, with the public often stepping in to execute their own brand of vigilante justice. The nation lost two giants- Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti- for vocalising the injustice accorded to Asia Bibi. Thus the case is both high pressure and high profile. Historically, when this is the case, politics and religiosity contaminate the judicial process. The LHC upholding the death penalty for Asia Bibi is an instance of that contamination, and a grave disrespect to those who have already given up their lives for the path of justice and equal humanity.

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