FEATURE :: Roundtable on Pakistan’s Landmark Blasphemy Case: Asia Bibi v. The State (2018)

Three scholars of Islamic constitutionalism and law consider the Pakistan Supreme Court’s recent decision on Asia Bibi v. The State, the blasphemy case that has drawn widespread international attention since 2010.

Last month the Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi of blasphemy charges, bringing Asia Bibi v. The State to a judicial conclusion. Asia Bibi’s case has drawn international attention since she was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad in 2010. A controversial case both domestically and abroad, the October 8th decision was not made public until three weeks after the hearing. The Pakistan Supreme Court’s decision brought forth questions about evidence, judicial independence, procedure, and the state’s authority in matters of law and religion. A detailed summary and text of the Supreme Court decision may be found here; the appeal — originally dismissed by the Lahore High Court — may be found here. We then rounded up three scholars of Islamic constitutionalism and law to weigh in and debate the implications of the decision. Here are their views.

Reasserting the Authority of State: Comment on Asia Bibi v The State 
Abbasi imageBy Zubair Abbasi, Assistant Professor, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)
“This judgment has sent a clear message that only the State has the authority to prosecute for the offense of blasphemy through its courts, which are to administer justice in accordance with the principles enshrined in the law and the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”

Asia Bibi v. The State: Problems of Evidence and Procedure in Pakistan
Ahmed imageBy Imran Ahmed, PhD Candidate, University of New England
“As Section 295-C continues to endure, just how to collect, address and analyze the evidence in such controversial and politicized cases while protecting the vulnerable and preventing potential miscarriages of justice remains open and without clear resolution.”

The Asia Bibi Blasphemy Law Case in Pakistan: Winning the Battle, Losing the War
MazzarellaBy Rachel Mazzarella, Non-Resident Fellow, Georgetown University
“Justice Nisar’s landmark opinion highlighted three main points that complicate the history of blasphemy law in Pakistan and contribute to the difficulty of predicting the future impact of Bibi’s acquittal: 1) Pakistan’s blasphemy regime reflects, in part, a colonial past 2) Islamic legal norms cut both ways in the blasphemy debate 3) Blasphemy laws continue to fail in their primary purpose.”