PAKISTAN: Chief Justice rejects request for June hearing of Asia Bibi’s appeal

mian-saqib-nisarChief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar (pictured) has turned down a request from Asia Bibi’s lawyer that her Supreme Court appeal be heard in June.

Asia’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, moved an early hearing application in mid-April, requesting that the appeal (against her conviction and death sentence under the blasphemy law) be fixed for the first week of June. No reason was given by the Chief Justice for refusing the application.

Asia-Bibi-Prison-–-Square_1Asia has been in prison since June 2009. After several court hearings and many delays, the High Court ruled against her in October 2014. Her lawyers immediately appealed to the Supreme Court and following several further delays the case was listed for hearing in October 2016.

However, it was immediately adjourned because one of the three judges recused himself, claiming a conflict of interest as he had been on the bench in a related case. If the death sentence is upheld by the Supreme Court, Asia’s only hope will be a presidential pardon.

Grounds for appeal

Mr Malook said that Asia’s case in the Supreme Court appeal is that the High Court, while upholding the trial court sentence, failed to take into consideration the statement made by her under Section 342 of the Code of Criminal Procedure wherein she stated that she “had offered oath to police on the Bible that she had never passed derogatory and shameful remarks against the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Holy Quran.”

The appeal also argued that the police had conspired with the complainant to make a false accusation and that the evidence of the prosecution witnesses was motivated by previous arguments they had with Asia Bibi.

Mr Malook also said that the High Court had failed to extend the benefit of doubt to Asia Bibi on account of a long delay of five days in the initial registration of the case which followed “deliberation and consultation among different Muslim religious leaders before the registration of the case. It was a well-settled principle of criminal law that unexplained delay in the registration of the criminal case, caused serious doubts on the veracity of the evidence.”

(Dawn, Express Tribune)

Church in Chains has written to the Pakistani Chargé d’Affaires in Dublin expressing deep disappointment at this further delay in hearing Asia’s appeal and pointing out  that Asia has now been in prison for almost eight years in a case that casts grave doubt on the operation of justice in Pakistan. The letter appeals to the Pakistani government to act immediately to ensure that the Supreme Court appeal is heard without further delay and emphasises that Asia’s case is a clear example that “justice delayed is justice denied”.  

Background

Asia Bibi is a Christian farm labourer from Punjab province in northeast Pakistan. On 14 June 2009, when picking berries in the fields with three Muslim women, Asia went to fetch water. The women refused to drink from the bowl she brought, saying the water had been brought by an “untouchable” and was “unclean”. After an argument, one of the women told the local imam that Asia had said: “Jesus Christ died on the cross for me – what did Mohammed ever do for you?” The imam filed a blasphemy case, local men beat Asia and the police took her into custody for protection.

In November 2010, she was sentenced to death. Over the years, Islamists have persistently called for Asia’s execution, and Muslim clerics put a bounty on her head. Two politicians who supported her and spoke out against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been assassinated.

Asia is married to Ashiq Masih and they have two daughters, Isha (18) and Isham (17), who has an intellectual disability and walking difficulties. Since Asia was accused of blasphemy, the family has been forced into hiding to avoid attack, and has had to move several times.