SC hears Asia Bibi's final appeal against death sentence for blasphemy

A special three-member bench of the Supreme Court on Monday is hearing the final appeal against the execution of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, are hearing Bibi's 2014 appeal (Asia Bibi v. The State, etc).

Asia Bibi's lawyer Saiful Mulook told the bench that the June 14, 2009 incident was reported on June 19. A case was filed against Bibi by a prayer leader in the village of Katanwala in Nankana Sahib, according to which Asia Bibi had confessed to committing blasphemy, he said.

"Are these things on the record?" the CJP asked Saiful Mulook.

"No permission to file the FIR was taken from the district coordination officer or the district police officer," he said, adding that the prayer leader in the FIR said that the villagers had not attempted to beat Asia Bibi.

"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."

"According to the prayer leader, a panchayat [to discuss the matter] was held in a house. It was said that 1,000 people were gathered for the meeting," the CJP said.

Asia Bibi and two Muslim women had a heated exchange, the lawyer told the court. The reason behind it was that the women had refused to drink water from the same dish as Asia.

The statements of the Muslim women, Asma and Isma, are contradictory, the lawyer added.

Asia Bibi's case

The allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009, when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with.

Asia Bibi, accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 despite her advocates maintaining her innocence and insisting the accusers held grudges against her.

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

The women went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet, a charge punishable by death under legislation that rights groups say is routinely abused to settle personal vendettas.

In 2011, former Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who spoke out in support of Bibi, was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad. His assassin Mumtaz Qadri was executed in 2016 after the court found him guilty of murder.

Bibi's supporters maintain her innocence and insist it was a personal dispute, and the Vatican has called for her release.

The top court had last taken up the appeal in October 2016, but had to adjourn the matter without hearing after one of the judges recused himself from the SC bench.

Successive appeals have been rejected, and if the SC bench eventually upholds Bibi's conviction, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency.

If that fails, she could become the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy.

More details to follow.



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