PAKISTAN: Supreme Court reserves judgment in Asia Bibi’s appeal

Pakistan Supreme CourtOn 8 October, three members of Pakistan’s Supreme Court (Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel) heard evidence in the appeal of Asia Bibi against her conviction for blasphemy. The judges highlighted several discrepancies in the statements of prosecution witnesses and announced that they would reserve judgment. They did not give a date for the announcement of their verdict but warned media not to discuss the case.

During the hearing, which lasted for almost three hours, Asia Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Mulook said that the incident at the heart of the complaint took place on 14 June 2009 but had not been reported until five days later. He told the court that the case had been filed by a Muslim prayer leader in the village of Katanwala in Nankana Sahib, according to whom Asia Bibi had confessed to committing blasphemy. In his complaint against Asia Bibi, the prayer leader stated that the villagers had not attempted to beat her (an incident that was widely witnessed).

“What we can conclude from your statements is that the prayer leader himself did not witness the incident as it happened,” Justice Khosa observed. “No blasphemous language was uttered in the presence of the prayer leader.”

Asia Bibi PrisonAsia’s lawyer explained the background to the complaint, stating that Asia Bibi (pictured) and two Muslim women engaged in agricultural work had a heated exchange after the women had refused to drink water from the same vessel as Asia. He told the court that the statements of the Muslim women, Asma and Isma, are contradictory.

Justice Nisar observed that the witnesses had not testified to Asia Bibi disrespecting the Prophet Mohammed, but that they simply described an argument that had taken place in the agricultural field.

Asia’s lawyer argued that the investigation was faulty and grounded in malicious intent and said that in such a situation, Pakistan’s blasphemy law is inapplicable.

The Chief Justice wondered whether the assistant superintendent police’s probe could be relied upon, to which the lawyer replied that police had wrongfully registered the case, according to Asia Bibi.

“No blasphemous words were used at all”, he said. “Asia, in her statement, said that she could not even conceive of committing blasphemy. She simply had an argument with two women. During that argument, they exchanged harsh words.”

“What kind of incident is this? That you were argued with, harsh words were used for you, and then the case was also filed against you?” the Chief Justice wondered.

“Are you suggesting it is possible that the person who filed the case, the prayer leader, is being used by someone else?” Justice Khosa asked. “That he is a frontman and someone else is behind him?” “It is possible that this is the case,” the lawyer said. He went on to say that the witnesses are lying.

Asia’s lawyer also informed the bench that Asia Bibi, who is illiterate, was referred to as a preacher in the complaint. “This reflects ill-intention [on the part of the complainant],” he added.

Reaction

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), said: “I am confident that this is a good result having spoken to officials from the Pakistani Embassy in the UK, MEPs and various MPs and Lords who have been working diligently for freedom for Asia Bibi, and others in the humanitarian field all share this confidence.”  

“Reserving the decision seems like a move designed to enable Asia to escape retaliatory action from incensed extremists in the country, many of whom have regularly rioted in response to every one of her previous appeals and threatened her with extrajudicial killing if exonerated.” 

The BPCA also revealed that churches all over Pakistan had observed Sunday as a day of prayer and fasting for Asia’s appeal.

Dr Paul Bhatti, the brother of Shabaz Bhatti (a Christian government minister murdered by Muslim extremists in 2011after supporting Asia Bibi) said: “I’m very hopeful and confident that the Supreme Court will give its verdict in favour of Asia Bibi.” Speaking from Treviso in north Italy, where he is a surgeon, Paul said he was not sure whether Asia will be released immediately, but it will definitely be an important step to “release her soon”.   

(Dawn/Express Tribune/British Pakistani Christian Association/Vatican News)