Sunday, 21 October, 2018

Supreme Court reserves verdict on Asia Bibi's final appeal against execution

Asia Bibi a Christian woman accused of blasphemy in June 2009 and sentenced to death a year later. ─ Reuters  File Asia Bibi a Christian woman accused of blasphemy in June 2009 and sentenced to death a year later. ─ Reuters File
Jeannette Daniel | 10 October, 2018, 19:25

Asia Bibi, who has been on death row since 2010, is at the centre of the high-profile case which has divided Pakistan and drawn prayers from the Vatican.

The three-judge panel led by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar did not indicate on Monday when the court would announce its ruling.

The conviction and sentence handed down to Asia Bibi has led to global condemnation of the country's much-abused blasphemy laws.

"We are hopeful for justice", lawyer Saiful Malook said after the hearing. The counsel replied that no such contention can be proved through the records. The death sentence has never been carried out; but at least 20 people have been murdered in prison after being convicted.

Justice Asif Saeed Khosa noted that the superintendent of police (SP) did not investigate the matter thoroughly and just put together few statements. However, Mulook told the bench that the Imam (prayer leader) himself was not a witness to the incident.

Reserving its verdict, the apex court directed media to refrain from any discussion on the case. He added that the court will look at the investigation report in entirety. "It was said that 1,000 people were gathered for the meeting", the CJP said.

Speaking about Pakistan's new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, about whom there have been some "contradictory remarks", Dr. Bhatti said in some of his statements he has spoken very clearly about protecting the poor and minority communities. "In such a situation, Section 295-C is inapplicable", the lawyer argued. If she fails to win the final appeal, Aasia Bibi will be the first person to be hanged for blasphemy in Pakistan.

"The witness testimonies did not state that she had used blasphemous language for the Holy Quran", he said. "If she is released, it will also give great relief to all those who, in the world, have felt deeply involved in this case, praying for her, so that this innocent woman may finally have justice".

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Reuters reported Pakistan's Supreme Court held a hearing on the case but "reserved its judgment".

The law does not define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.

If the apex court upholds the conviction, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency. They also expressed their "solidarity and prayer with other victims" of the Pakistan's blasphemy law. For them, Bibi's case is seen as a watershed.

Ashiq Masih, her husband, told Catholic News Service in an October 5 interview that if Bibi is released she and her family will immediately seek sanctuary in one of several countries that have offered them exile, because it was too unsafe for them to remain in Pakistan.

"I am a 100 per cent sure she will be acquitted", Malook had said on the eve of the hearing. "She is psychologically, physically and spiritually strong, having a very strong faith", Masih told BPCA's Chairman Wilson Chowdhry.

The allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009, when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with. After she took a sip, some of the Muslim women became angry that a Christian had drunk from the same container.

"They have come to a decision, but it has been reserved", said Mehwish Bhatti, an officer with the British-Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), said from the court house.

In 2011, former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who spoke out in support of Bibi, was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad.

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