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Pakistan again baulks on blasphemy case

ISLAMABAD (AsiaNews): The long awaited appeal against the death sentence and conviction for blasphemy of Pakistani Catholic woman, Asia Bibi, was again postponed by the Supreme Court in Islamabad on October 13, when one of the three judges stepped down from the case.

The convening judge, Mian Saqib Nisar, called a halt to proceedings. Iqbal Hameed, who stepped down from the case, said, “I was a member of the bench hearing the case of Salman Taseer and this case is related to that.” The hearing, which only lasted two minutes, was adjourned.

Saif ul Malook, the lawyer representing Bibi, objected to the adjournment, but his objection was overruled and the bench refused to hear it. Bibi was not present in the court.

Although Iqbal said that because he was involved in hearing the case against Mumtaz Qadri, the body guard of the Muslim governor of the Punjab, whom he was found guilty of murdering over his critical remarks concerning the enforcement of the blasphemy laws, commentators believe that he had been threatened.

Large demonstrations have called for revenge for Qadri, who was executed in February of this year, and on the day of Bibi’s hearing a crowd outside the court was calling for her death. 

Church officials had asked for prayer from the whole Church in Pakistan on the day her hearing was set for.

Bibi, who has now been on death row since 2010, faces another indefinite wait, as no date was set for another hearing.

Father Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, the director the National Commission for Justice and Peace, attended Bibi’s final appeal. Thousands of security troops were deployed around the Supreme Court building.

“I urge everybody to pray for her, we pray that the verdict favours this innocent woman,” he said. “Basically they didn’t do anything. I am not sure why they linked this case with that of late governor.”

Bibi’s defence lawyer wanted to speak for her, but they did not allow it”.

Bishop Joseph Arshad, from Faisalabad, also expressed hope for Bibi’s freedom. “The witnesses (for the prosecution) are not solid. Also there has been no example in the country’s history where a person has been hanged for blasphemy. Justice should prevail and the law should take its own route,” he said.

Meanwhile, Islamist fundamentalist groups are pressurising the government into punishing Bibi for the alleged blasphemy.

In a statement, the Shuhada (martyrs) Foundation of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in the capital said its supporters would take to the streets and would not allow the government to function if Bibi is released.

“Lal Masjid will become a centre for the anti-government movement if Asia Masih (Bibi) is released. We are seriously concerned at the efforts for the release of blasphemous Asia Masih and will consider those blasphemous who defend her, whoever they are and on whatever position they are working,” the foundation said in a statement, claiming that some ambassadors have also lobbied for her release.

The hearing had originally been set for October 6, but was postponed for one week to keep it out of Moharram, the Shia month of mourning, which is a volatile period.

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