Yesterday, the Pakistan’s High Court rejected the appeal of
a Christian woman sentenced to death for the crime of blasphemy. Unless the
Supreme Court intervenes, Asia Bibi will be put to death.
After half a dozen postponements and cancellations, Asia
Bibi’s appeal was heard on Oct. 16 in the Lahore High Court. The defense took
most of 35-minute hearing to argue their side, stating that plaintiffs waited
six days before filing a complaint against the Christian woman. They argued
that this showed conspiracy and intentional targeting. Her lawyers also pointed
out that the man who issued the complaint did not even witness the alleged
blasphemous statement. Twenty-five mullahs watched the proceedings from inside
the courtroom. Outside, some 2,000 mullahs gathered in an effort to pressure
the court to uphold the death sentence.
After the judges deliberated for nearly an hour, they denied
her appeal. Asia Bibi’s lawyers now have
30 days to appeal to the Supreme Court, Pakistan’s highest court.
Asia Bibi was arrested in June 2009 after a heated argument
with two of her co-workers. Asia worked for a Muslim-landowner as did many of
the women in her village. As one of three Christian families in her village, after
being pressured to convert to Islam during the spat, she defended her faith.
“Our Christ is the true prophet of God,” she reportedly told the women, “and
yours is not true.”
For this crime, in November 2010, she was sentenced to
death. It took nearly four years before the courts would listen to her appeal. Having
her appeal heard before the Supreme Court will likely take just as long. VOM
sources say she could expect to wait months or even years.
There have been 5,000 blasphemy cases registered between
1984 and 2004 in Pakistan, but only 964 people were charged. Though death
sentences in blasphemy cases are not uncommon, Asia Bibi was the first woman
given the death sentence under this charge. Her appeal will be the second of
death penalty case for blasphemy to reach the Supreme Court. In 2002, Christian
man Ayub Masih was acquitted, giving Pakistani Christians hope that Asia Bibi
may also acquitted.
Even if Asia Bibi is acquitted by the Supreme Court, she
remains in danger from Muslim radicals. One Islamic cleric put a half-million
rupee (US $5,000) bounty on her head. Extremist vigilantes have murdered 52
people following their acquittal from blasphemy charges, including 15
Christians. They have also targeted politicians like Governor Salman Taseer and
Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, who both called for reforms to
the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. Both men were killed within months of one
another in 2011.
Following the ruling, Asia’s husband Ashiq Masih noted his
disappointment, saying, “This appeal
was supposed to be a ray of hope, but the rejection of the appeal has shattered
our confidence.” VOM sources close to Asia say she’s probably depressed at this
news. She has spent most of the last five years in near solitary confinement. She
will need prayer and encouragement as she and those who are helping her
continue to wait to see what God will do.
Asia told VOM workers, “Please do something. I have waited
so long, and I want to be with my children.”
Sources: VOM Sources, Morning Star News
Posted: October 17, 2014
Updated: October 20, 2014