Last chance for Christian mother facing gallows to be decided by Pakistan’s Supreme Court
Asia Bibi Appeals Blasphemy Conviction to Pakistan’s Highest Court
Washington D.C. — International Christian Concern has confirmed that Asia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy, will be given one last appeal to avoid execution in Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has set the appeal date for Wednesday starting at 9:00 a.m. Pakistan time.
Human rights and religious freedom organizations, consider Bibi’s case symbolic of the persecution faced by Christians in Pakistan and of how the country’s blasphemy laws are widely abused.
“The hearing will take place on July 22nd in Lahore,” Saif-Ul-Malook, Bibi’s Supreme Court Advocate told ICC. “I am very much sure and optimistic that the honorable Supreme Court will acquit Bibi. The evidence available as the record is, is not sufficient evidence for the Islamic standards of evidence to sustain the conviction.”
Bibi has been on death row since her conviction and death sentence were announced by the Session’s Court in District Nankana, Pujab, in 2010. Her appeal hearing was delayed and rescheduled seven times but was finally held October 16, 2014 at the Lahore High Court. At that appeal, Justice Anwar-ul-Haq, one member of a two-judge bench hearing the appeal, passed a short order confirming Bibi’s death sentence.
This supreme court appeal represents Bibi’s last chance to avoid execution through Pakistan’s court system. At the hearing scheduled on Wednesday the supreme court will decide whether to “grant or reject” Bibi’s appeal.
If granted, the supreme court will set a future date for Bibi’s appeal over the course of several hearings before deciding whether to uphold or overturn her death sentence. If the death sentence is upheld, Bibi’s only chance of avoiding execution would be through a presidential pardon, a power granted to Pakistan’s President in Article 45 of Pakistan’s Constitution.
“The case against Asia Bibi is one of the best examples of how Christians and other religious minorities are abused in Pakistan by fundamentalists wielding Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. The blasphemy laws were originally written to protect against religious intolerance in Pakistan, but the law has warped into a tool used by extremists and others to settle personal scores or spread religious hatred against Pakistan’s vulnerable religious minorities,” said William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia. “Sadly, the vast majority of blasphemy accusations brought against Christians and others are false. Pressure from Islamic radical groups and general discrimination against Christians in Pakistan has transformed courts into little more than rubber stamps for blasphemy accusations brought against Christians, regardless of the evidence brought to bear in the case.”
The blasphemy accusation against Bibi originates from a dispute that took place in June 2009 between Bibi and a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries in Sheikhupura. The Muslim women became angry with Bibi when she, a Christian whom they considered unclean, drank water from the same water bowl as the Muslim women. An argument between Bibi and the Muslim women ensued and later the Muslim women reported to a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against Islam by saying, “My Christ died for me, what did Muhammed do for you?”
In April 2014, ICC held a press conference on “The Hope and Peril of Religious Minorities in Pakistan” at the National Press Club. As part of that hearing ICC highlighted Bibi’s case by reading a letter written by her husband, Ashiq Masih, saying, “Since Asia was sentenced to death in November 2010, my family has lived in constant fear. We are now trying our best to present the final case to the Supreme Court. But we are convinced that Asia will only be saved from being hanged if the honorable Prime Minister Sharif and President Hussain grant her pardon. No one should be killed only for drinking a glass or water.”
Upon learning that the supreme court had scheduled Bibi’s appeal, Masih told ICC that, “It is a great pleasure that Asia’s appeal hearing has been fixed by the Supreme Court. Our whole family is praying for her release so she may come out of the prison and may live with her children. May God protect her and all our children so that we may live safely and peacefully together.”