Critical Update for Asia Bibi’s Death Sentence Appeal in Pakistan
Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five from Pakistan sentenced to death for her faith, could soon have her final appeal date with her life on the line.
Pakistan’s highest court has accepted Asia Bibi’s request for an early hearing. Asia, a Christian mother of five, has been in prison since June 2009 for allegations of blasphemy. Two of her co-workers alleged that she uttered derogatory remarks against the prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable with the mandatory death penalty.
In November 2010, the trial court sentenced Asia to death. Four years later, the Lahore High Court upheld her conviction while criticizing her defense during trial. The court noted that Asia’s counsel at trial had not cross-examined the two accusers. The High Court said that, because “the most relevant aspect of the prosecution case remained unrebutted,” the witness statements are “deemed to have been admitted by the defense.”
Asia’s new counsel, Saif ul Malook, filed an appeal with the Supreme Court noting multiple errors in the case. He argued, among other things, that the lower courts failed to take into consideration the unexplained delay of five days in registering the First Information Report (FIR). Asia was forced to confess to the crime before a mob of hundreds of Muslims and the case was registered “after due deliberation and consultation by [the local Muslim cleric].”
Under Pakistani law, such delay is considered harmful for the prosecution’s case because it shows that the accusers had planned the case with mala fide intention. In 2002, the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Ayub Masih (a Christian on death row for blasphemy) over a few hours of delay in registering the FIR.
After hearing preliminary arguments, a three-justice panel granted leave to appeal.
More recently, after seeing reports of the possible hearing in October, attorneys from the European Centre for Law and Justice’s (ECLJ) affiliate in Pakistan, the Organization for Legal Aid (OLA), visited the Supreme Court’s office and spoke with Asia’s attorney. Both confirmed that a petition requesting a hearing in October had been filed and that the Court granted the petition. Normally it takes about three to five years for a case to come up for hearing before the Supreme Court. But since the petition for early hearing was granted, the case will be forwarded to the Court’s Registrar to set the date.
At the hearing, the Supreme Court will hear the argument and decide Asia’s fate. To date, Pakistan has not carried out the death penalty in a blasphemy case. However, hundreds have been killed extra-judicially by either violent mobs or drive-by shootings even after having been acquitted by the courts.
We ask you to pray for a positive outcome and for the safety of Asia, her family, and her attorney. We will update you as we receive more information.