Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy, will have her final appeal heard tomorrow, October 8, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has announced.
Bibi, a 51-year-old mother of five, has been in prison since 2009.
A special three-member panel comprised of Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel will hear the appeal.
The appeal has been languishing with the Supreme Court since 2015, when it issued a stay of execution.
Bibi was first convicted of blasphemy by a lower court in 2010 and sentenced to death. The Lahore High Court upheld her death sentence in 2014.
Dawn (PK) details the charges:
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.
Bibi’s supporters maintain her innocence and insist it was a personal dispute, and the Vatican has called for her release.
Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy law has been repeatedly used to target religious minorities, including Christians and Ahmadi Muslims (whom Pakistan does not recognize as Muslims).
The hashtag #HangAsiya in support of Asia Bibi’s death sentence is currently trending on Twitter in Pakistan.
— محمد اسلم ندیم (@AslamNadeem8) October 7, 2018
Criticizing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws has proved a dangerous business.
In January 2011, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, for calling for changes to blasphemy laws.
Then in March 2011, Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet, was shot and killed. His assassination was claimed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban, who said that they targeted Bhatti because of his opposition to the blasphemy law and threatened to kill anyone else who raised such challenges.
Pakistan’s Christian community is routinely targeted by terror groups and the public at large with seeming impunity. Bombings of churches and Christian gatherings have become commonplace in Pakistan:
Dec. 2017: The Bethel Memorial Methodist Church in Quetta was struck by two suicide bombers, killing 9 worshipers and injuring 57 others. The Islamic State claimed credit for the bombings.
March 2016: An Easter Sunday suicide bombing targeting Christians celebrating the holiday in a Lahore public park killed 75 and injured 340. A group affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban claimed credit for the attack, while Christian leaders worldwide condemned the massacre.
March 2015: Christians in Lahore were also targeted with suicide bombings at two churches during Sunday services. The attacks killed 17 worshipers and injured more than 70 more. Protests by Christians continued for several days. A group affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban took credit for the bombings.
Sept. 2013: In the deadliest recent attacks on Christians in Pakistan, the Anglican All Saints Church in Peshawar was targeted by two suicide bombers: 127 were killed and 250 were injured. In claiming responsibility for the Peshawar church bombing, the TTP Jundullah spokesman, Ahmed Marwat, said, ” They are the enemies of Islam, therefore we target them.”
Lynchings of Christians in Pakistan happen regularly.
In October 2017, 14-year-old Christian student Arsalan Masih was lynched by police in a village in Punjab province. Masih’s family claimed that he had been bullied by other students to renounce his Christian faith.
The month before that murder another Christian student, Sharoon Masih, was beaten to death by Muslim classmates in Punjab after only four days of being enrolled in the school.
Apart from Bibi’s case, which has received international attention, there have been a number of cases of Christians being murdered and prosecuted for blasphemy:
Sept. 2017: Nadeem James was convicted of blasphemy for a July 2016 incident where he was alleged to have blasphemed Muhammad on WhatsApp and sentenced to death.
Nov. 2014: A Christian couple, Sajjad Maseeh and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi, who were set upon by a mob of up to 1,200 people in Punjab province after being falsely accused of throwing away pages from a Quran. They were thrown into a brick kiln by the crowd and burned alive. The attack left their three children orphaned.
April 2014: Another Christian couple from Punjab, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, were found guilty of sending blasphemous text messages to a local imam and sentenced to death.
Aug. 2012: Fourteen-year-old Rimsha Masih was arrested after an imam accused her of burning a Quran. She was released and the case was dropped when authorities discovered that the cleric had fabricated the evidence. Despite being cleared of charges, Rimsha and her family had to flee to Canada due to death threats. The case against the imam who had tried to frame her was later dropped.
As has been reported here at PJ Media, in Pakistan Christian girls are targeted for forced conversions to Islam, as is true in other Muslim-majority countries.
Because of its support for terrorist organizations, including the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. has begun to cut off aid to Pakistan.
In January, the State Department announced that $900 million in aid and support was being suspended while Pakistan continued its support of the Taliban and the Haqqani terror networks.
President Trump called out Pakistan for its duplicity on Twitter:
The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 1, 2018
And just last month, $300 million in aid to Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) was suspended because of the lack of support for the Trump administration’s South Asia Strategy to target terrorism in the region.
The U.S. government is also keeping an eye on the Asia Bibi case:
One of the many victims of #Blasphemy Laws is #AsiaBibi, a Catholic mother of five who was sentenced to death in #Pakistan after being accused of blasphemy. See @EwelinaUO’s piece on her case: https://t.co/R1sjNTQ3CQ
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) October 1, 2018
If Bibi’s appeal is denied, her only recourse will be a presidential pardon. What actions the Trump administration will take if her death sentence is upheld are still unknown.