PAKISTAN: Supreme Court to hear petition against Asia Bibi’s acquittal

Asia Bibi PrisonPakistan’s Supreme Court has announced Tuesday 29 January as the date when it will hear the review petition against its decision to acquit Asia Bibi. Three judges led by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa will consider the review petition, which was filed by Qari Muhammad Salaam, the imam who brought the original blasphemy charge against Asia Bibi in 2009.

On 31 October 2018, the three-member Supreme Court bench unanimously acquitted Asia, and Chief Justice Asif Khosa, writing in the full 56-page verdict, said the truth had not been fully revealed during the trial. “[There is] the irresistible and unfortunate impression that all those concerned in the case with providing evidence and conducting investigation had taken upon themselves not to speak the truth or at least not to divulge the whole truth. It is equally disturbing to note that the courts below had also, conveniently or otherwise, failed to advert to such contradictions and some downright falsehood,” he wrote.

Islamist extremist protesters brought Pakistan to a standstill with three days of protests following Asia’s acquittal. The protests ended when the Pakistani government acceded to their demands, accepted a review petition and placed Asia’s name on the country’s Exit Control List, meaning that she would not be allowed to leave Pakistan before the review was heard.

What will happen in court?

The three-judge bench will meet to decide whether or not Asia Bibi’s acquittal should be reviewed. The complainant has argued that the Supreme Court of Pakistan should not have taken into consideration all the technical faults in the case – especially the inordinate delay in the filing of the First Information Report and the defective investigation. The complainant has also asked that a member of the Appellate Shariat Court be included in the bench that reviews the judgement and has challenged the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the alleged “confession” that Asia was forced to make by the people of her village,

As the Supreme Court’s judgment in October was so comprehensive and unequivocal, it would be a major surprise if a review is allowed, meaning that if a review is allowed, many observers will conclude the Supreme Court gave into pressure by extremists.

Where are Asia Bibi and her family?

It is understood that Asia and her husband, Ashiq Masih, are being held in a secret location in protective custody under heavy guard by the Pakistani security services. It has been reported that security is so tight that Asia has been ordered not to open a window in the building.

There has been much speculation about the whereabouts of Asia’s family following reports that they kept having to move to stay ahead of the Islamist extremists who were hunting them down.

However, Wilson Chowdhry of the British Pakistani Christian Association, who has been in constant touch with the family, has now said:

“We know the family is in a very safe location and not under the pressure of relocating from house to house as they once were. 

“After all this beleaguered family has been through they deserve to be together. Now is the time to free Asia so she and Ashiq can join them.  

(British Pakistani Christian Association/Dawn/Express Tribune/International Christian Concern)