PAKISTAN: Asia Bibi’s appeal hearing delayed

The case of Asia Bibi (45), the Christian mother-of-five sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, is still on hold.

The blasphemy charge, which Asia has denied, arose in June 2009 after a dispute involving Muslim women who refused to drink from the same water bowl as Asia. When she challenged the women, they accused her of blasphemy. She was arrested, tried and found guilty. Asia was sentenced to death in November 2010.

Asia’s lawyer, S.K. Chaudhry, filed an appeal in January, alleging that the original evidence presented in court was false. He filed an appeal again in early July, after four judges were replaced suddenly. “Our hope is for the High Court to appoint a judge,” he said. “Meanwhile, Bibi’s health is deteriorating after five months in isolation in Sheikhpura prison. Security around her has been beefed up after a Christian man, Qamar David, was [allegedly] poisoned to death in Karachi Central Prison.”

Asia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, visits her every week with two of their daughters. He is desperate, saying that his wife is frail and can barely speak. “She asks me about the High Court hearing every time,” he said, “and every time in disappointment I tell her that we are waiting for the court to take up the case. She has not lost hope and she has faith that God will take her out of the jail.”

Their youngest daughter said, “My mother is innocent. She is weak and can barely speak. I can’t control my tears when I see her. We have been forced to face hardships because my mother stood firm for her faith. We are praying for her, we are hopeful that someday she will be with us and we will once again live a normal life”.

Asia’s eldest daughter described the family’s fear: “Every time I hear news about persecution or blasphemy I get scared that, God forbid, something will happen to my mother. We spend every single day in fear. Although the delay is making me lose hope, I pray every time and feel that God will bring her back one day. The moment she comes, we will forget all the hardships we have faced.”

According to Saleem Murtaza, a legal expert who has been following Asia’s case, “The High Court is delaying the hearing due to the pressure from extremists and clerics. There is a great possibility that if the High Court takes up the case, it will maintain the death sentence. The pressure from extremist groups and the bounty over Asia’s head will increase the threat for the judiciary as well… Nothing less than a miracle at this time can turn things around.” (Asia News, Assist News Service)

Church in Chains has written to the Pakistani Ambassador to Ireland – seeking a meeting to present an appeal letter on behalf of Asia Bibi. This appeal letter has been signed by 26 members of the Oireachtas (TDs and Senators).