Landmark pardon for Christian woman on death row sparks optimism in Pakistan

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan/ Aasia Bibi

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has overturned a death-penalty verdict for Christian farm worker Asia Bibi. This landmark decision undermines blasphemy laws in the country. And the outcome has been hailed far and wide as positive:

Bittersweet

This ‘victory’ is bittersweet for many Pakistanis. Because the country has been fighting an uphill battle against violent conservative groups, particularly since the US-led military invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Hardliners in Pakistani politics have also gained momentum, adding their voice in support of harsher punishments for blasphemy.

In 2011, Salman Taseer (then-governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province) and minister Shahbaz Bhatti were assassinated. Both, allegedly, for their public support of Asia Bibi:

Protests

Following news of the ruling, conservative Muslim groups in Pakistan issued calls to protest. Some groups, including the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), also incited violence against the judges who carried out the ruling:

Panic around public order, meanwhile, caused nationwide disruption:

The prime minister speaks out against protesters

Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan warned against potential threats to public order:

Many people have hailed his speech as a step forward in the face of religious dogma and violence:

Muslim backing for the decision

Support for the Supreme Court decision, however, does not stem from secularist sentiment. Rather, many Pakistanis have expressed religious Muslim sentiments in support of the verdict. Because many feel the decision is more in keeping with Islamic principles of justice than the original death-penalty verdict:

The future

Of course, it goes without saying that there’s still much work to be done:

But this doesn’t change the fact that, at this historic moment, the nation’s mood is defined by hope:

It’s difficult to overstate the significance of Asia Bibi’s pardon in a very religiously conservative Pakistan. Though it may only be one step, it is in the right direction. And many Pakistanis are hopeful that this single step could be the one that begins a journey of a thousand miles.

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