Asia Bibi appeals blasphemy conviction in Supreme Court

Christian mother-of-five Asia Bibi went before Pakistan’s Supreme Court yesterday, Wednesday July 22, to appeal against the death penalty which she faces after accusations of blasphemy.

In June 2009, some fellow agricultural workers with whom Ms Bibi had argued claimed that in their row she had insulted Mohammed. Ms Bibi denied this, saying that the women were trying to settle old scores, but she was pursued and beaten by a mob before being arrested.

The death sentence was pronounced in November 2010 with the Lahore High Court upholding the conviction in October 2014.

Supporters of Ms Bibi, who has been in prison for six years, hope that the hearing in Lahore will lead to Ms Bibi’s acquittal, although if this fails there remains the hope of a presidential pardon. Ms Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, wrote to seek such a pardon in November 2014, and this April visited Rome asking Pope Francis to intercede in the case.

A presidential pardon is thought unlikely, given pressure from Muslim extremists, but many hope such a recourse will be unnecessary: Pakistan has had an unofficial moratorium on executions since 2008, and the Supreme Court has never upheld a death sentence for blasphemy.

The speed with which the appeal hearing has been set has surprised such supporters of Ms Bibi as Mehwish Bhatti of the British Pakistani Christian Association, who said “Perhaps the international pressure felt by our Government has resulted in the expedition of her case. I hope that this time the courts make the right decision and free sister Asia. Six years in a dingy, dark cell in complete isolation will no doubt have caused great trauma, especially when coupled with a nation’s unfair hatred.”

If Ms Bibi is acquitted, however, her life will remain in danger as Muslim extremists have threatened on several occasions to kill her, some even placing a bounty of over €4,500 on her head. Miguel Vidal, a spokesman for Mas Libres, a Spanish organisation dedicated to defending religious freedom, says the organisation has an evacuation plan for Ms Bibi and her family should she be released.