Pakistani Christian woman on death row finally freed

Pakistani religious students rally for the implementation of a blasphemy law and against the acquittal of Asia Bibi, in Karachi, Pakistan. (File/AP/Shakil Adil)
Updated 29 January 2019

Pakistani Christian woman on death row finally freed

  • Supreme Court dismisses review petition against Asia Bibi’s October acquittal
  • Bibi’s lawyer calls ruling “landmark judgment in the history of Pakistan”

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the October acquittal of a poor Christian woman, Asia Bibi, in a landmark blasphemy case, clearing the final legal obstacle in her path to freedom after eight years on death row.

Bibi's case had put an international spotlight on the abuse of Pakistan's blasphemy laws in many instances to settle personal scores and unfairly target religious minorities. If allowed to walk free, Bibi is widely expected to seek asylum abroad, most likely in Canada. 

In October, the Supreme Court had acquitted Bibi of blasphemy charges but she has since been in hiding after religious hardliners held countrywide protests and filed a petition asking the court to review its decision. “This case does not have as many honest witnesses as it should have had ... and the petitioner has failed to point out any mistake in the court’s earlier verdict,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa remarked while hearing the case along with Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel.

After the apex court freed Bibi last October, prayer leader Qari Muhammad Salaam had petitioned the court asking it to dismiss its earlier judgement and uphold the death sentence awarded in 2010. 

Salaam’s lawyer Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa demanded during court proceedings on Tuesday that a larger bench of justices be formed to hear the review petition and should include Islamic scholars and clerics. 

“How is this a matter of religion?" the chief justice asked as he dismissed the petition.  

Hailing the apex court’s verdict, Bibi’s lawyer Saif ul Malook said: “This is a landmark judgment in history of Pakistan. She is a free person now and can go anywhere in the world she wants."

Malook said the verdict was a "loud and clear message" to people to stop leveling false allegations of blasphemy against innocent ones. 

Bib's ordeal began in 2009 when a dispute broke out between her and her Muslim coworkers at a berry farm because Asia had filled a jug of water for her colleagues. After the fight, the women accused Bibi of committing blasphemy by insulting the Quran and Prophet Muhammad and she was sentenced to death by a district court in 2010.

She spent eight years on death row until the Supreme Court finally acquitted her last year. But protesters poured into the streets in several Pakistani cities, forcing the government to take Bibi into protective custody on November 7.

“After nine years behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit, it is difficult to see this long overdue verdict as justice,"  Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, Rimmel Mohydin, said in a statement. "But she should now be free to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice,” she said.


Texas officer charged with murder, resigns after shooting

Updated 15 October 2019

Texas officer charged with murder, resigns after shooting

  • Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family's attorney

FORT WORTH, TEXAS: A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.
Aaron Dean, 34, was booked into jail on a murder charge Monday afternoon. The police chief said earlier in the day that he acted without justification and would have been fired if he didn't quit.
Police bodycam video showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was caring for her 8-year-old nephew early Saturday. He then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.
Dean was not heard identifying himself as police on the video, and Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was no sign Dean or the other officer who responded even knocked on the front door.
"Nobody looked at this video and said that there's any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately," Kraus said.
Earlier in the day, Jefferson's family had demanded that Dean, a member of the force for 1½ years, be fired and arrested.
"Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community," family attorney Lee Merritt said.
Police went to Jefferson's home about 2:25 a.m. after a neighbor called a non-emergency line to report a door ajar. In a statement over the weekend, the department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after "perceiving a threat."
The video showed Dean shouting, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" and immediately firing.
Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family's attorney.
As for what, exactly, led Dean to open fire, the police chief said: "I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life." The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.
The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn't be considered unusual in Texas.
"We're homeowners in Texas," the police chief said. "Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn't be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting." Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was "a bad thing to do."
Mayor Betsy Price called the gun "irrelevant."
"Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew. She was a victim," Price said.
Texas has had a "castle doctrine" law on the books since 2007 that gives people a stronger legal defense to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to "stand your ground" measures across the U.S. that say a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.
Fort Worth is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.
In that case, white Dallas officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her black neighbor Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.
A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson's home Sunday night for a vigil after demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-story, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.
The police chief said Dean could face state charges and that he had submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.
Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state's largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.
Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings. In June, the department released footage of officers killing a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.
Of the nine officer-involved shootings so far this year in Fort Worth, five targeted African Americans and six resulted in death, according to department data.
Nearly two-thirds of the department's 1,100 officers are white, just over 20% are Hispanic, and about 10% are black. The city of nearly 900,000 people is about 40% white, 35% Hispanic and 19% black.
Calling the shooting "a pivotal moment in our city," the mayor said she was ordering a top-to-bottom review of the police force and vowed to "rebuild a sense of trust within the city and with our police department."
Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor's degree in biology. She was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going to medical school, according to the family's lawyer.