Asia Bibi’s ‘blasphemy’ appeal Finally Heard By Pakistani’s Supreme Court But Decision Adjourned

Aasiya Noreen, a Pakistani Christian woman, has been on death row for over eight years for alleged blasphemy. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Aasiya Noreen, a Pakistani Christian woman, has been on death row for over eight years for alleged blasphemy. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Pakistan’s Supreme Court in the capital Islamabad has finally heard the much-delayed appeal of Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, on 8 October. It has not announced its decision, saying it will ‘reserve judgment’ for several days or possibly weeks.

Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, has been in prison for eight years after she received the death penalty in 2010 for blasphemy, after allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman.

Her lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, told Deutsche Welle (DW) that she stood a good chance to be released. “The incident happened on June 14, 2009, but the case was registered on June 19, 2009. The accused did not get the benefit of doubt. Legally, it is a weak case,” he said.

There were also contradictions in the statements of the witnesses, he told the three justices of the Supreme Court, reported the Pakistani news site The News International.

Noreen had filed her appeal with Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2014, but her last appearance, two years ago, was adjourned amid protests. An appeals court in 2014 used her case as justification to ask Pakistan’s government to change court rules in such a way as to make future blasphemy convictions more difficult to obtain. Only Pakistan’s Supreme Court can change Noreen’s death sentence or she has to appeal to the President for mercy.

‘Our lives are being threatened’

The case of the Catholic mother of five has drawn international attention. During his visit to Pakistan in December 2017, the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Jan Figeľ, told officials that the renewal of their export privileges to Europe depended on the release of Noreen.

Pakistani Christians fear that even if she wins her appeal, and her blasphemy conviction is overturned, she will be prey to mob violence, as many Pakistanis are convinced she deserves to die.

“Bibi’s possible release could trigger protests and demonstrations across the country,” her lawyer told DW.

At the time of her appeal hearing, Noreen’s husband and daughter are in the United Kingdom. Speaking at an event hosted by Catholic organisation Aid to the Church in Need at Lancaster University this past weekend, Ashiq Masih said his wife would “never convert to Islam”, adding “she is psychologically, physically and spiritually strong”.

“Having a very strong faith, she is ready and willing to die for Christ,” he told the Catholic News Service last week Friday (5 October).

Masih told DW that his family’s life had been destroyed however. “We are living a life on the run… Our lives are being threatened. We receive death threats constantly and are moving from one place to another – and we try to support each other,” he said, adding “I spent almost 45 years of my life in my native village. I had many friends there. But now I do not want to go back.”

‘In the hands of the extremists’

World Watch Monitor, over the years, has followed Noreen’s case closely. Following the rejection of her appeal by the Lahore High Court in October 2014 her then lawyer, Naeem Shakir, told World Watch Monitor that with the passing of time it had become difficult for higher court judges to dispense justice, which, he said, “is increasingly in the hands of the extremists.”

Two politicians, Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, who showed support for Noreen’s case and advocated for reform of the country’s blasphemy laws, were killed in the first three months of 2011.

Bibi with Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated in 2011 for supporting her case. (Photo: Courtesy of Open Doors International)
Asia Bibi with Punjab Governor, Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated in 2011 for supporting her case. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

In May this year Pakistan’s interior minister, who has championed the country’s minority communities, survived an assassination attempt by a gunman protesting against the country’s blasphemy laws.

In April Pakistan’s chief justice, Mian Saqib Nisar, said he would hear Noreen’s case personally. “Be ready, Saif-ul-Malook. I am going to fix your case soon and I myself will preside over the bench,” he reportedly told her lawyer.  As part of his decision to hear Noreen’s appeal, Justice Nisar ordered police protection for Malook restored.

Today, the three member bench consisted of Nisar, with Justices Asif Saeed Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel. The lawyer for the complainant, an imam, Qari Muhammad Salaam was Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the president of the Khatme Nabuwat (Finality of Prophethood) Lawyers’ Forum.

Malook told the Supreme Court that the imam did not witness the alleged blasphemy himself. Today Malook again said it was at a local village council, or panchayat, of around 1000 people where Noreen was forced to confess the alleged instance of blasphemy.

Asia Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, leaves the Supreme Court in Islamabad under police protection after the final hearing today, 8 October.

In 2014, Lahore high court judges categorically stated that Pakistani law would not take into account any such confession made to a random group, and they had at that time set aside evidence of all the witnesses related to the village council.

In the run-up to today’s hearing an Islamic party, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan(TLP), had warned that “if there is any attempt to hand her [Bibi] over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences”, reported DW. The party is known for its strong support of the strict blasphemy laws, and has called for blasphemers against Islam to be put to death and for those who kill alleged blasphemers to be celebrated.

However, in February 2016, the Pakistani authorities hanged Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who tried to justify his murder of Salman Taseer partly because of Taseer’s support of Asia Bibi.

Source: WorldWatch monitor

Henotace Team

David Oshin is a Content Creator || Full stack Web Developer||Podcast Host || Digital Marketing Strategist. He is very passionate about UNITY of the body of Christ.

Leave a Reply