Asia Bibi v. The State: Blasphemy, Religion and Law in Pakistan

Dr Imran Ahmed1

1University of New England, Australia

This paper provides a critical appraisal of the Supreme Court judgement in the long running and infamous case against Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, accused of blasphemy in 2009. While the judgement is hailed as a historic and landmark ruling, this paper argues that apart from acquitting the accused, it changes little else in the political and legal landscape of the country. The judgement relies on colonial assumptions about the nature of religious conflict in order to defend the blasphemy laws of Pakistan. And in so doing, tacitly affirms the discourses on the Islamic identity of the state which justify the marginalisation of religious minorities. Asia Bibi v. The State reinforces the death penalty for blasphemy even as it recognises the almost ubiquitous misuse and problematic nature of the law. The Court refrains from taking any clear or significant step towards the protection of vulnerable minorities. The judgement instead performs exegetical gymnastics to connect Islam and Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. It fails to seriously engage with the question of how the constitutional rights and liberties of individuals and communities can be preserved so long as the law continues to endure.


Biography:

Imran completed his PhD in History at the University of New England in 2019. His research interests lie at the intersections of religion, law and politics in late-colonial India and contemporary Pakistan. His work on the constitutional politics of Islam in Pakistan appears in ‘South Asia’ and ‘The Round Table’.

ABOUT THE ASSOCIATION

The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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