Fresh postponement in Bibi case

Key witness fails to attend court

Asia Bibi’s legal bid for freedom from her blasphemy conviction in Pakistan has been postponed yet again.

Following a previous adjournment on March 17 when an assigned judge failed to turn up for the hearing, a court in Lahore again halted proceedings on March 26, this time as a result of the failure of a Muslim witness central to the woman’s conviction to appear. This witness, Mullah Qari Muhammad Sallam, is the Muslim who, in 2009, first made the allegation of blasphemy against Ms Bibi, resulting initially in a death sentence against her in 2010. The prisoner’s legal team had hoped  to question Sallam on the five-day gap between the alleged blasphemy and his reporting of it, with a view to demonstrating the malicious nature of the charge. A new date for the hearing was set for April 14.

Meanwhile, another hearing in Lahore has resulted in a death sentence for blasphemy against another Christian, Sawan Masih. The man was charged in 2013 following an argument at a barber shop where he had been refused service. His arrest resulted in a major outbreak of violence against the Christian community in Lahore. All suspects arrested in connection with that violence were bailed by the judge presiding over the Masih case following the announcement of the death sentence.

Such was the sense of outrage surrounding the Masih case that the trial was held in the prison where he is being held to prevent attacks on him during transfers to and from court.

Masih lawyers have announced their intention to appeal the sentence.