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Asia Bibi case: A test for the top court

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News Analysis |

The Supreme Court of Pakistan is all set to hear an appeal of blasphemy convict Asia Bibi on Oct 8. The SC Registrar’s Office has issued notices to the prosecutor general of Punjab and others on Friday and informed them about the next hearing of the case. According to details, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and a death-row prisoner was convicted of blasphemy in Nov 2010.

Media reports suggest that in June 2009, Aasia was involved in an argument with a group of women. Subsequently, she was accused of blasphemy (she allegedly insulted Islam and used derogatory words against the scared personalities). In 2010, a lower court after listening to the arguments from both sides and looking into the available evidence awarded her the capital punishment.

Analysts argue that the case of Asia Bibi has become a high profile one which is a test case for the courts to decide a controversial matter without being influenced by social pressure or religious extremism.

In 2014, the Lahore High Court (LHC) upheld her death sentence despite criticism from some segments of civil society and international media. However, the apex court had issued a stay order on her execution in July 2015. The stay order was issued by the top court since the case had become controversial and complex which demanded more deliberation to be concluded.

As a matter of fact, her case was last heard on October 13, 2016, by a three-judge bench of the top court headed by the incumbent CJP. The hearing was, however, quickly adjourned after Justice Hameedur Rehman, one of the three members, recused himself saying he was the chief justice of the Islamabad High Court when it heard the Salmaan Taseer assassination case.

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Mr. Taseer, then governor Punjab, was assassinated on January 4, 2011, by his bodyguard while exiting a cafe in Islamabad’s Kohsar Market. The bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, killed Taseer for his stance on blasphemy law. Qadri was handed death sentence on October 1, 2011. He was executed on February 29, 2016.

According to details, Asia Bibi, a Christian woman and a death-row prisoner was convicted of blasphemy in Nov 2010.

As for Asia Bibi, if the SC rejects her appeal, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency. Although no one in Pakistan is ever executed for Blasphemy, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of blasphemy cases not only against non-Muslims but several Muslims have been a victim of false allegations too.

Read more: Is Pakistan as extremist as portrayed by western media?

The lynching of a young University Student Mashal Khan was one of the examples of how this law is being misused by the powerful segment of the society to protect their individual interests. Courts are therefore now very careful while deciding the cases pertaining to blasphemy.

Analysts argue that the case of Asia Bibi has become a high profile one which is a test case for the courts to decide a controversial matter without being influenced by social pressure or religious extremism.