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Asia Bibi's final appeal against blasphemy to be heard in Supreme Court

Published Oct 12, 2016 11:04am


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LAHORE: The Supreme Court is due to hear the final appeal against the execution of Asia Bibi, accused for blasphemy, on Thursday.

Some insist it is not just a fight for one life, but a battle for the nation's soul as the state walks a razor-sharp line between upholding human rights and appeasing populist hardliners.

This will be the final appeal for Asia Bibi, some six years after she was sentenced to death, accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) during an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water.

“There is no question that what is at stake is the very soul of the state and Pakistan society: does Pakistan respect the rights of the most vulnerable? Does it defend those rights against spurious allegations even where those allegations involved matters that are sacred to most Pakistanis?” Mustafa Qadri, an expert on human rights in South Asia, told AFP recently.

Bibi was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010, despite her advocates maintaining her innocence and insisting the accusers held grudges against her.

The allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009, when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with.

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

The women went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), a charge punishable by death under legislation that rights groups say is routinely abused to settle personal vendettas.

Successive appeals have been rejected, and if on Thursday the three-judge Supreme Court bench upholds Bibi's conviction, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency.

She would become the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy.

The repercussions for minorities, human rights and the blasphemy laws will be “tremendous” if that happens, says Shahzad Akbar, a human rights lawyer.

“In Pakistan blasphemy cases are mostly misused... it would be a huge blow for minorities in Pakistan who already live in fear,” Akbar explained.

A decision in Bibi's favour, Qadri says, “would send a powerful message to the world that Pakistan respects the rule of law and not the mob.” But he also warned that hardliners “would without question react angrily and likely violently” if Bibi is acquitted.

In 2011, former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, who spoke out in support of Bibi, was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad.

His assassin Mumtaz Qadri was executed earlier in 2016 in a Supreme Court decision that was hailed by progressives, but brought hardliners into the streets supporting Qadri and demanding Bibi be killed.

Her husband has already written to President Mamnoon Hussain to seek permission to move her to France, where the Council of Paris unanimously adopted a proposal to award honourary citizenship to Asia Bibi in March.

Family in hiding

Bibi's family have lived largely in seclusion since 2010, fearing they will be mistreated if they venture out into the brimming streets of Lahore.

“Papa used to tell me not to go out, the situation out there is very bad,” her daughter Esham, 18, says of the days after Qadri's hanging. “We used to stay inside all the time.”

She is afraid, she says, adding: “Someday someone will come and ask me, are you the daughter of Asia Bibi?” Esham and her sister Esha go twice a month to the south Punjab city of Multan, where their mother is held.

“We talk to our mama about the things at home,” Esham says. “I share my thoughts with her, like mother-daughter stuff.”

The visits begin joyfully, she says, but end in grief. “She becomes sad... her daughters come to meet her from such a long distance and she cannot even hug them.”

According to a tally by Human Rights Watch, 17 people including Bibi remain on death row for blasphemy.

Her case has reached all the way to the Vatican - Esham had a face to face meeting with Pope Francis in April last year as the head of Catholic church offered prayers for her mother.

“He gave me blessings and I can't remember more,” she told AFP.

“I feel the Pope is praying for my mother and he will keep praying, and with his prayers my mother will be freed.” In 2010, Pope Francis's predecessor Benedict XVI also called for Bibi's release.

Her family continue to hope. Esham clears her throat and speaks quietly: “My mom will be released. I ask you to pray for her. “


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Comments (23) Closed

Think shuttle Oct 12, 2016 11:18am

"True meaning of Islam is peace and forgiveness."

Kamal Pasha. Oct 12, 2016 11:29am

Islam also teaches mercy.

Muhammad Kamran Oct 12, 2016 11:36am

All the best Asia. All sane Muslims and non-Muslims are with you!

Hassan Oct 12, 2016 01:14pm

Its a decisive point for Pakistan.

Ahmed bin Babar Oct 12, 2016 02:03pm

The minorities should be dealt with kindness & compassion...

Sajid hASAN Oct 12, 2016 02:04pm

Islam is a religion of peace and humanity...and teach us tolerance....all sane Muslims believe in peace and equal rights for minorities too....

Harmony-1© Oct 12, 2016 02:34pm

Set her free...and amend the laws!

javed malik Oct 12, 2016 03:23pm

Justice must be done in every case. Forget about the world. If she is innocent or guilty, let the court decide.

naveed iqbal Oct 12, 2016 03:34pm

Islam gives the lesson of patience and peace.

H. Khan Oct 12, 2016 03:45pm

Let this lady be free please. Good luck Ms. Aasia.

very wrong Oct 12, 2016 04:14pm

let the courts do their job

ozzy Oct 12, 2016 05:18pm

If she is innocent then set her free and get those who wrongly accused her. But if she is guilty then ahe broke the law should be dealt woth accordingly.

hk Oct 12, 2016 05:45pm

We should not look towards human rights activists or hardliners but decision should be as per law

Asad Khan Oct 12, 2016 05:51pm

Please set her free. She has suffered a lot already.

Sahil Oct 12, 2016 06:14pm

@Ahmed bin Babar no likely in pakistan

wahalasleepy Oct 12, 2016 06:24pm

@hk THat's what I thought so why is so much written about it?

AXH Oct 12, 2016 06:43pm

The Supreme Court should make the right decision and release her. No one is even sure if the charges against her are even based on facts or were concocted.

soniya bisht Oct 12, 2016 07:15pm

Forgive this poor soul, she got kids

Good Guy Oct 12, 2016 09:43pm

How can any law kill somebody for saying some words (it does not matter if it was said or not). Many people use abusive words against others mothers/sister almost daily but they don't get any punishment but a lady get death sentence for uttering some words. Even if she is freed unless she leave the country, she will be killed. What a law?

Salman Taseer Oct 12, 2016 10:17pm

As a responsible state Pakistan should demonstrate to the world that she is protective of her inhabitants regardless of their religion.

While there is no doubt that Asia Bibi's case should be considered on the basis of its merits. But what about all the mercy and compassion that even the Prophet (PBUH) showed and showered even upon those who did no good to him?

There are provisions in law including the Sharia law which will help the courts and honourable judges to grant a respectful pardon to Asia Bibi.

As for the people who are opposed to Asia Bibi being forgiven/pardoned and the state apparatus "fears" will turn violent, I am sure the state knows who they are and how to deal with them.

If, God forbid, the sentence against Asia Bibi is fulfilled, after nearly 70 years of existence on the world political map, Pakistan will have no justification whatsoever to save its face and be only further isolated.

Pardon is the only way forward. It can be granted exercising the powers granted under the state laws, under Islamic jurisprudence and the practices of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The citizens of Pakistan want to see a free Asia Bibi. Long live Asia Bibi, Long live Pakistan!

Pushtun Voice Oct 13, 2016 01:21am

Please please please - I beg you to let this poor women go free. Two hundered million people cannot be held hostage by these idiots. Asia bibi should be released and she and her family should be on a plane out of Pakistan

JM Oct 13, 2016 07:00am

May today be the day of her release. Let her go! She's suffered a lot..

KT Oct 13, 2016 09:57am

Whatever may be decision of court she must know about life of Prophet Mohammad. Cause those know about his life and sacrifice about his grandsons will always respect him irrespective of religion they follow.