After years of delays, seven years and eleven months to the day after she was sentenced to death by hanging for her Christian faith, Christian mom Asia Bibi has finally had her appeal heard by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
A three-member panel of the Supreme Court of Pakistan consisting of Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel heard arguments in Asia Bibi’s case yesterday. Asia was arrested in June 2009 and sentenced to death in 2010 for blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad’s name.
As we have previously explained:
Asia Bibi was convicted . . . under Pakistan’s medieval blasphemy laws and sentenced to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad after she offered water to a Muslim co-worker who believed Asia had made the water ceremonially unclean by drinking from the same cup.
Since then the Christian mother of five has languished on death row, while her husband and children wait anxiously, praying for a miracle.
While the Chief Justice instructed the media to refrain from reporting details of yesterday’s hearing until the verdict is announced, Pakistani newspapers have published the following.
During a two-hour long argument, Asia’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, raised multiple substantive and procedural errors made throughout the investigation, trial, and conviction since June 2009.
Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Mulook, [asked] why the June 14, 2009 incident had been reported on June 19, [a delay usually considered fatal to the prosecution’s case].
He also recalled that a case was filed against Bibi by a[n Islamic] leader in the village of Katanwala in Nankana Sahib, according to which Asia Bibi had confessed to committing blasphemy.
. . . .
"What we can conclude from your statements is that the [Islamic] leader himself did not witness the incident as it happened," Justice Khosa observed during the hearing. "No blasphemous language was uttered in the presence of the [Islamic] leader."
Asia Bibi’s attorney, Mr. Malook, informed the Court:
Asia Bibi and the two Muslim women had had a heated exchange when the argument broke out, the lawyer told the court. The reason behind it was that the women had refused to drink water from the same bowl as Asia.
He further stated:
“The statements of the Muslim women, Asma and Isma, were found to be contradictory.” He said that “the investigation was faulty and grounded in malicious intent. In such a situation, Section 295-C [one of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws] is inapplicable.”
Responding to Mr. Malook, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) “wondered whether the assistant superintendent [of] police's probe into the matter could be relied upon, to which the lawyer replied that police had wrongfully registered the case.”
"The witness testimonies did not state that she had used blasphemous language for the Holy Quran," he said. "No blasphemous words were used at all. Asia, in her statement, said that she could not even conceive of committing blasphemy," Saiful Mulook stated for the court.
He added that she respects Islamic education and the Holy Prophet "with all her heart".
"She simply had an argument with two women. During that argument, they exchanged harsh words," the lawyer said.
"What kind of incident is this? That you were argued with, harsh words were used for you, and then the case was also filed against you?" the CJP wondered.
"Are you suggesting that it is possible that the person who filed the case — the [Islamic] leader — is acting on someone else's behest?" Justice Khosa asked. "That he is a frontman and someone else is behind him?"
"It is possible that this is the case," the lawyer said. He went on to reiterate that the witnesses were "lying".
The lawyer also informed the bench that Bibi, who is an illiterate woman, was referred to as a Christian preacher in the FIR, when she cannot be considered so.
"This reflects ill-intention [on the part of the complainant]," he added.
After hearing argument by Asia’s attorney, the Court heard the complainant’s attorney.
Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer representing complainant Qari Islam, argued that Bibi had used blasphemous words regarding the Prophet.
"These [blasphemous statements] are the same words that Christians usually use," he said.
However, Justice Khosa remarked that it was possible that the blasphemous words that Bibi was accused of uttering were actually made by the lawyer who drafted the complaint against her.
. . . .
Justice Khosa then repeated his observation that the imam of the mosque [who is the complainant in this case] had not been a direct witness to the incident.
"[However,] he [the imam] later became a crusader [seeking justice]," he said, noting that a mosque imam's word would be generally respected by locals due to social conventions.
However, the lawyer contended that no malicious intent had been apparent on the part of the prosecution.
But Justice Khosa wondered why each witness had given a different statement on the panchayat [a local village elders’ court where Asia was forced to confess].
"The reverence for the Prophet (PBUH) is part of our faith," the judge remarked, before asking the complainant's lawyer to support his arguments with evidence.
He said that "it hurts the entire nation when the accused are acquitted due to technicalities".
"There is a lot of contradiction between statements given by the people [involved in this case]," the CJP noted.
"Blasphemy is a heinous crime," he observed. "[But] it remains to be seen whether the allegations [against Bibi] were proven."
The judge directed the complainant's lawyer to present evidence based on testimonies. "A lot is being done to defame Islam," the chief justice said. "All this is being done to incite us."
The court did not provide any date when the verdict will be announced. Given the religiously-charged atmosphere of the country regarding blasphemy cases, it is understandable that the court would avoid announcing its decision yesterday, especially if it is in Asia Bibi’s favor.
While many people have been murdered over blasphemy allegations, so far the Pakistani government has never carried out the death sentence. We hope and pray that the Supreme Court’s record of overturning blasphemy convictions remains the same. However, if the court upholds her conviction, Asia’s only recourse would be a clemency petition to the President. As you might recall, the late Governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, was murdered by his own security guard while Taseer was preparing a clemency petition for Asia.
With that in mind, we hope and pray for God’s wisdom for the justices and mercy and safety for Asia and her family. We ask for continued prayers from our members as we all wait for the verdict. We will continue our constant advocacy for this Christian mother’s freedom.
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