Pakistan’s Supreme Court Indefinitely Adjourns Asia Bibi’s Blasphemy Appeal
Christian Mother’s Legal Team Still Hopeful for Acquittal
10/13/2016 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has indefinitely adjourned Asia Bibi’s final appeal against her death sentence under the country’s notorious blasphemy laws. The court decided to adjourn after one of the three Supreme Court Justices hearing the case decided to recuse himself.
Bibi’s appeal was set to be heard by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad by a three-member bench, including Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rahman and Justice Manzoor Ahmad Malik. However, Justice Rahman recused himself from the case, stating, “I was part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salman Taseer and this case is related.”
“I am still optimistic,” Advocate Saif-Ul-Malook, Bibi’s Supreme Court Lawyer, told ICC. “I hope it will not take too long for the next hearing [to be scheduled] with a new bench. This was a routine matter. It is not unusual for [hearings] to be postponed due to an incomplete bench.”
When asked about the ultimate outcome of the appeal, Advocate Malook said, “I am still very hopeful for an acquittal.”
Bibi has been on death row since her conviction and death sentence were announced by the Session’s Court in District Nankana, Punjab in 2010. Her High Court appeal was also delayed and rescheduled seven times but was finally held on October 16, 2014 at the Lahore High Court. During that appeal, Justice Anwar-ul-Haq, one member of a two-judge bench 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.
While speaking with ICC, Peter Jacob, Executive Director of Center for Social Justice, said, “Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rahman headed the hearings for Rimsha Masih, a Christian accused of blasphemy, and Salman Taseer. He [also] conducted the inquiry into to the Gojra blasphemy incident. Therefore quitting from the bench was his wise decision.”
“Justice Rahman is known for his integrity. Therefore quitting from the bench was not out of fear, but to avoid controversy,” Jacob added.
Not all in Pakistan agree with Jacob’s assessment. Advocate Naeem Shakir, Bibi’s former defense lawyer at the Lahore High Court, said, “This is the failure of our judicial system. The bench was constituted a month earlier, thus there was sufficient time for a judge to inform the chief justice of the need to be recused.”
The blasphemy accusation against Bibi is based on flimsy evidence 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.
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “It is disappointing to see Asia’s appeal delayed once again due to procedural issues. It has been seven long years since Asia had this false blasphemy accusation completely change her life. We here at ICC are hopeful that the Supreme Court will reconstruct the bench hearing this final appeal and will reschedule the hearing at the soonest possible date. It is ICC’s hope that when the appeal is heard, the Supreme Court will resist outside pressure from radicals and extremists and decide Asia’s case on the merits. If decided on the merits, we believe that the court’s only conclusion will be to acquit. We also hope that the decision made by the Supreme Court will lay a foundation for reforming Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws. This will be a signal to both Pakistan and the world that justice will prevail over extremism, even when a religious minority is accused of blasphemy.”