Wednesday, 19 October 2016

EDITORIALS Sipping water a capital offence

Sipping water a capital offence

Pakistan deserves condemnation for its appalling failure to resolve the case of the young Christian mother of five who has been on death row for six years awaiting hanging, because she sipped water from a cup intended for Muslims. An appeal by Asia Bibi against her conviction under the blasphemy laws, targeted at Pakistan’s three million Christians, was supposed to be heard by three Supreme Court judges last week. But one judge excused himself and there is no certainty when another bench may be constituted.
Ms Bibi is back in her prison cell, in solitary confinement, supposedly because of threats against her life by Muslim fellow prisoners. She has been in jail since 2010 when Muslim
co-workers in Punjab accused her of insulting the Prophet Mohammed by drinking from the cup of water they asked her to fetch. Because she was a Christian, they claimed, she had polluted it and they denounced her to the local mullah.
Previous appeals against her sentence failed. But lawyers and human rights workers were optimistic that the Supreme Court hearing — Ms Bibi’s final avenue of appeal before becoming the first person to be hanged under the blasphemy laws — would overturn the conviction. The latest delay will be welcomed by the feeble government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which all but ignores violence against Christians. Controversy over the case led to the assassination of Punjab’s former governor Salman Taseer in 2011, after he argued in favour of Ms Bibi. Acquitting her could spark renewed violence and judges are reportedly fearful about making such a decision.
Their fears, however, do not excuse Mr Sharif and Pakistan’s powerful military leaders from ensuring justice is done and Pakistan’s minority Christian community is protected against the savage intolerance of Islamic zealots. Pakistan, a member of the Commonwealth, is one of the world’s great begging bowl nations, relying on vast infusions of foreign aid, especially from the US. Australia provided it with $47 million in 2016-17. Its donors should leave Mr Sharif in no doubt about the need to ensure Ms Bibi gets justice.

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