CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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Pakistan court to hear challenge to Asia Bibi acquittal

LAHORE (UCAN): Pakistan’s Supreme Court will hear a review petition challenging the acquittal of Catholic death row inmate, Asia Bibi, on charges of blasphemy, it announced on January 24.
 
Muhammad Salam, a Lahore-based cleric, filed the petition last November after Bibi’s death sentence was struck down by the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment which drew praise from minorities and human rights advocates.
 
A three-judge panel comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel heard Bibi’s appeal in October and ordered her immediate release.
 
The decision led to violent protests by Islamists who paralysed the country (Sunday Examiner, 11 November 2018).
 
The mother of four had been held in solitary confinement on death row since 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy. She was jailed after a row with her co-workers in June 2009 following accusations that she had made offensive remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, an offense punishable by death.
 
The news channel, Geo TV, reported that a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Qazi Faiz Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam was scheduled hold a hearing on the review petition on January 29. The court will rule whether to admit the appeal for hearing or discard it. If the court rejects the appeal, there will be no further legal constraints on Bibi leaving Pakistan.
 
After her release from prison on November 7, Bibi was flown to Islamabad and taken to an undisclosed place amid tight security. Authorities have remained tightlipped about her whereabouts for security reasons.
 
Hyacinth Peter, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference, hopes the Supreme Court will reject the petition.
 
“Only the lower courts are pressurised by mobs and clerics during hearings in blasphemy cases. The supreme courts usually stand firm on their judgments; reviews do not change anything,” Peter said.
 
The protests over Bibi’s acquittal led to the arrest of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the hardline Sunni group Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan and his supporters.
 
On January 22 An anti-terrorism court in Lahore sent Rizvi and five others to jail on a 14-day judicial remand. 
 
Father Abid Habib, former regional coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, fears for Bibi’s safety.
 
“The lives of blasphemy victims are always at stake. Even after acquittal, they are always vulnerable and never free to live happily in Pakistan,” he said.
 
“All of them have taken asylum in other countries. Crackpot mullahs like Rizvi keep instigating people to kill the alleged blasphemers to win the favour of the Prophet Muhammad. The state must take serious steps to ensure their normal life once declared innocent,” he said.

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