Date: October 30, 2018
Court’s Decision Will Bring Close to Pakistan’s Most Visible Case of Persecution
Earlier this month, on October 8, a three-judge bench, led by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, heard final arguments on Bibi’s appeal. Following the hearing, the court announced that it would reserve announcing its final verdict for an unspecified future date. The court further ordered the media not to comment on the case until the verdict was formally announced.
“I’m very hopeful for Asia’s release and acquittal,” Sajid Christopher, president of Human Friends Organization, told ICC, following the October 8 hearing. “[Bibi’s lawyer], Advocate Saif-Ul-Malook, prepared very well. He pointed out all the contradictions in the FIR and witness statements. I am very confident that Asia is innocent.”
In spite of the media blackout, extremists took to the streets on October 12 in Lahore, Karachi, and Rawalpindi, demanding that the government put Bibi to death. Extremist groups like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan warned of “terrible consequences” for the Supreme Court Justices if Bibi was allowed to flee the country. Others threatened to bring the country to a standstill through sit-ins and other forms of protest.
Bibi has been on death row since her conviction and death sentence were announced by the Sessions Court in Sheikhupura in 2010. Her High Court appeal was delayed and rescheduled seven times and was finally held on October 16, 2014 by the Lahore High Court. During that appeal, Justice Anwar-ul-Haq, one member of a two-judge bench, confirmed Bibi’s death sentence. On July 22, 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan accepted Bibi’s petition for her case to be reviewed and suspended her death sentence.
The blasphemy accusation against Bibi is based on flimsy evidence following a dispute that took place in June 2009 between Bibi and a group of Muslim coworkers with whom she had been harvesting berries in Sheikhupura. The Muslim coworkers became angry with Bibi when she, a Christian whom they considered unclean, drank water from the same water bowl as the Muslims. An argument between Bibi and the Muslim women ensued and the Muslim coworkers later reported to a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against the Prophet Muhammad.
ICC’s Regional Manager, William Stark, said, “We here at ICC are praying for Asia to finally get the justice she desperately deserves in this case and to be released to her family soon. Asia has been on death row for almost a decade under extremely trying circumstances. It is ICC’s hope that, with this decision, the Supreme Court will lay a foundation for reforming Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws and signal to both Pakistan and the world that justice will prevail over extremism, even when a religious minority is accused of blasphemy.”