A court in Pakistan has dropped charges of blasphemy against Christian woman Mussarat Bibi, a school cleaner, and her teenage Muslim co-worker Muhammad Sarmad. The decision comes seven months after they were released from prison on bail. CSI’s project partner has welcomed the “landmark judgement”.
The pair were acquitted on December 8 as a result of the efforts of their legal team and Anjum*, a project partner of Christian Solidarity International (CSI).
Bibi and Sarmad had spent 23 days in prison on blasphemy charges before being released on bail on May 12.
Anjum hailed “a landmark judgment in which both of the victims have been declared innocent and are acquitted with honor.” “All religions should be respected and their followers treated with dignity,” he added.
“I feel like I have got my life back again,” said a relieved Mussarat Bibi, who gave glory to God and expressed thanks to her legal team and CSI. “I was fearful that the judge would hand down a further punishment when he called me into the court. Instead he said, ‘Your case has been decided and you are cleared of the charges. You can go now.’”
Bibi said that she had always firmly believed that God would rescue her.
Muhammad Sarmad’s grandfather, Umer Din, also expressed his joy over the acquittal. “I was very worried for him as he is still a young boy and we had so many expectations of a bright future for him. Today we are enjoying celebrating his acquittal,” he said.
Bibi, a widow and mother, worked at the girls’ school in Arifwala, Punjab province, alongside Sarmad. She was responsible for cleaning while her young colleague kept the garden tidy. On April 19 she and Sarmad (18) were clearing out a storeroom at the school. Faced with a mountain of trash, they decided to set fire to the wastepaper. Not being able to read, they were unaware that the pile of papers included pages from the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an.
An informant reported the pair to the police, who arrested them the same day and took them into custody.
When CSI partner Anjum learned of the arrests, he immediately traveled to Arifwala. He was able to explain to influential local Muslims that the pair had not intentionally set fire to pages of the Qur’an, thereby averting a possible riot.
However, Bibi and Sarmad were both charged under section 295B of the Pakistan Penal Code, which reads: “Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.”
Since Pakistan’s current blasphemy laws came into force in 1987, nearly 2,000 people have faced blasphemy accusations; 78 people have been extrajudicially murdered after being accused.
*For security reasons, we do not refer to our partner in Pakistan by his full name.