Pakistan: In another strange twist of fate in Asia Bibi case

Source:  www.assistnews.net

Date:  2014-09-09

Today's court case to hear the appeal of Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death, has been postponed again, but this time at the request of her husband

By Dan Wooding
Founder of ASSIST Ministries

LAHORE, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Once again, the appeal in the Lahore High Court, of Pakistani Christian mother, Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy, was postponed again until October 16, 2014, but this time at the request of Bibi's husband.

Asia Bibi, will she ever get her freedom

This will be the seventh time the case has been postponed, and on this occasion, the case hearing had been fixed for today (Tuesday, September 9, 2014) in the Lahore Division Bench of Mr. Justice Anwar-Ul- Haq and Mr. Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi.

Hopes had been running high that finally Bibi would be acquitted and would be able to return to her family.

According to the Pakistan Christian Post (www.pakistanchristianpost.com), the defense lawyer, Mr. S K Chaudhry, along with the legal team of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), including Tahir Bashir, Advocate, Nasir Anjum, Advocate, and Mr. Joseph Francis, National Director of CLAAS were present in the court, while Mr. Naeem Shakir, another of Ms. Bibi's defense team, was on leave (out of country).

Also present, said the PCP, was Ashiq Masih (Asia Bibi's husband) was present and he "requested the court to fix the case for another date as his private lawyer was not present and submitted a written leave application."

The story then stated, "Whereas Mr. Tahir Khalil Sindhu, Pakistan's Provincial Minister for Minorities Affairs and Human Rights, was also present as a defense lawyer for Asia Bibi and he submitted a Power of Attorney about six months ago. He tried to speak before the honorable court, but the learned justice asked the all [the] present councils that [had] filed appeal on behalf of Asia Bibi and he was Mr. S. K. Chaudhry."

Asia Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih,
along with some of his family

It was also said that the complainant lawyer Ghullam Mustafa [Khatam-e-Nabowat] was also present in the court.

The PCP went on to say that Mr. Justice Anwar-ul- Haq was "in the mood to hear the case" [and] he told all councils that court "will hear the arguments of the lawyer who filed appeal against punishment and he is present and can make arguments," but Mr. Justice Shahbaz Ali Rizvi suggested an adjournment of the case as Mr. Shakir submitted a written application

"Therefore the Judges have to adjourn the case hearing till October 16, 2014 for the said case and also passed an order in written that on the next court hearing the case would be heard and there would be no other adjournment," it added.

Asia Bibi's daughters with a photo of their mother

After the latest postponement, CLAAS stated that it was "very much dishearten because of the attitude of Ashiq Masih, as he [had] hired another separate lawyer, Mr. Naeem Shakir, and the other lawyers, "who claim that they are fighting for Asia" because they are the responsible for today's adjournment.

"We just hope for the good time and environment on October 16, 2014 and pray that there should not be any other adjournment as the judge said Joseph Francis, National Director of CLAAS. "We hope that Asia Bibi's suffering [is] going to be end and the Lord Our God has heard our prayers and seen the problems of Asia Bibi's minors that how they live without their mother."

Bibi, a mother of five, has been in prison since being sentenced to death by a Sheikhupura judge for blasphemy in November 2010. If executed, she would be the first woman in Pakistan to be "lawfully" killed for blasphemy.

The accusation followed a heated dispute with Muslim colleagues. Her trial took place and sentenced her to death.

"Asia h as always denied that she defiled the name of the prophet Mohammed during an argument with Muslim co-workers, but was convicted following a trial. She was sentenced to death in 2010 and her case attracted national and international attention," said Nasir Saeed, CLAAS-UK Director.

As Saeed said, that shocking death sentence drew international outrage and strong condemnation from human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who saw the blasphemy laws as a form of religious persecution and called for them to be abolished.

Pope Benedict XVI publicly called for clemency for her. In his statement, he described his "spiritual closeness" with Asia Bibi and urged that the "human dignity and fundamental rights of everyone in similar situations" be respected.

Shahbaz Bhatti who was murdered shortly
after this picture was taken

Blasphemy is a serious crime in Muslim-majority Pakistan and carries the death sentence, but human rights groups say the charges are often trumped up as a means of settling personal scores and vendettas.

Anyone accused of blasphemy in this predominately Islamic country, faces threats to their life from extremists. Relatives often have to go into hiding to escape the same fate, and being behind bars doesn't make the accused any safer.

However, if Asia Bibi is eventually freed, she will then be able to return to her family, but even then, her nightmare may not be over, as she would probably have to go into hiding with her family, as there are those in Pakistan who would like to kill her.

To complicate matters, since her conviction, there have been two murders of Pakistan leaders who have supported her case.

Many believe that this pictture of Salmaan Taseer with Asia Bibi (her face covered) cost him his life

Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was killed by his own guard, Malik Mumtaz Qadri for supporting Asia Bibi, branding the blasphemy laws "black" and demanding changes. Malik Mumtaz Qadri, who was sentenced to death, had confessed to murder on the grounds that he objected to Mr. Taseer's calls to amend the country's controversial blasphemy law.

The assassination divided Pakistan, with many hailing Qadri as a hero.

Qadri was part of Mr. Taseer's protection team but opened fire on the governor as he was about to get into his car in the capital, Islamabad, on January 4, 2011.

Critics of the controversial blasphemy law say it can be used to persecute minority faiths and is sometimes exploited for grudges.

Another victim in the case of Ms. Bibi, was Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, was also killed on March 2, 2011 for supporting her and demanding changes in the controversial blasphemy laws, which Christians consider the root cause of their persecution.

So what can me make of all o f this?  I believe that all we can do as Christians is to continue to pray for Asia Bibi, that her nightmare might be finally over, but then what? It could be that she would then have to apply for asylum in friendly countries like the United States or Canada, like Rimsha Masih who was acquitted after a Pakistani court found that she had been framed by a Muslim cleric of burning pages of the Koran. Masih and her family are now in Canada, where they fled to in March of 2013.    

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