Pakistan’s Supreme Court Sets Appeal Date for Christian Mother Facing Gallows for Blasphemy
Asia Bibi’s Appeal to Be Heard by Pakistan’s Highest Court
08/22/2016 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Asia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death for allegedly committing blasphemy, will have her final appeal heard by Pakistan’s Supreme Court during the second week of October 2016. This appeal constitutes the last legal avenue through which Bibi can avoid execution in Pakistan. Many human rights and religious freedom organizations consider Bibi’s case indicative of the persecution faced by Christians in Pakistan and how the country’s blasphemy laws are widely abused, especially against religious minorities.
“The Chief Justice [of] Pakistan has ordered that Asia Bibi’s appeal be fixed in the second week of October for final hearing,” Advocate Saif-Ul-Malook, Bibi’s Supreme Court Lawyer, recently told ICC. “I will appear before the Supreme Court of Pakistan and argue her case while she will remain in prison. I hope [the] result will be an acquittal.”
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 High Court appeal was delayed and rescheduled seven times but was finally held on 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, confirmed Bibi’s death sentence.
On July 22, 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted Bibi’s petition for her case to be reviewed and suspended her death sentence. Following that decision, Advocate Malook said, “The standard of evidence which is required to prove [this] offence is not available in this case. Therefore, I am optimistic that the honorable court will acquit my client.”
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?”
This Supreme Court appeal represents Bibi’s last chance to avoid execution through Pakistan’s court system. 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.
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “The case against Asia Bibi is one of the best examples of how Christians are abused in Pakistan by radicals wielding Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are widely abused and often used as a tool to settle personal scores or spread religious hatred against Pakistan’s already vulnerable religious minorities. Threats from Islamic radical groups and general discrimination against Christians in Pakistan have transformed courts into little more than rubber stamps for blasphemy accusations brought against Christians, regardless of the evidence brought to bear in the case. It is ICC’s hope that the Supreme Court will resist these pressures and decide Bibi’s case on the merits. If decided on the merits, we believe that the court’s only conclusion will be to acquit. That decision will lay a foundation for practical steps toward religious harmony in Pakistan and will be a signal that justice will prevail over extremism in Pakistan’s courts even when a religious minority is accused of blasphemy. ”