Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi Given Final Appeal to Death Sentence

After years of virtual silence about Asia Bibi, the falsely accused Pakistani mother of five who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, the Daily Times reported on April 21 that her appeal against the death penalty will be brought before Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

That appeal may be her last chance to escape Pakistan with her life.

The Times reports: “Justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar on Saturday announced that the Supreme Court will hear Asia Bibi blasphemy case, while he also ordered to restore security provisions to Asia’s counsel.”

The justice said that he personally knows the defense attorney, Saiful Malook, and considers his requests for bodyguards to be legitimate. He’d asked for protection because the Bibi case is so sensitive.

No hearing date for Bibi’s death-sentence appeal has been announced.

Bibi’s case seems almost unbelievable to Westerners. As I wrote for Fox News in 2014: “For years, Asia Bibi’s infuriating story and sorrowful face has embodied the unfairness of Pakistan’s deadly blasphemy laws….”

As reported by the Independent Catholic News, Asia Bibi was out harvesting berries with a group of Muslim women when she got caught up in an argument. They apparently grew angry with her because she was drinking water with the same cup they were using.

Subsequently, the women accused Bibi of blasphemy, specifically, that she insulted the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. She denied the charge, but was arrested and imprisoned for what in Pakistan is a capital offense.

A Pakistani judge sentenced Bibi to death in November 2010.

Pakistanis who seek to defend Asia Bibi take their lives in their hands. One measure of how controversial her case is: Two prominent and courageous politicians, Shahbaz Bhatti, minister for Christian minorities, and Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab, were assassinated in 2011 for opposing Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws, and for speaking out on Asia Bibi’s behalf.

No doubt this explains why the court agreed to provide security for Bibi’s counsel in her death sentence appeal.

Journalist Farahnaz Ispahani, another brave Pakistani, served as a member of the Pakistani parliament from 2008 to 2011 while her husband, Husain Haqqani, was Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. Ispahani is the author of "Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities" — essential reading about religious persecution in Pakistan.

I recently asked Ms. Ispahani why Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are so perilous to those who oppose them

Her response: “Pakistan's blasphemy laws have become more pernicious and dangerous as the society at large has become more extremist and unwilling to share space with those of other beliefs like Pakistan's Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs — and even those of the same faith but of different sects like Ahmadi and Shia Muslims.

“Even religious and conservative Sunni Muslim scholars of Islam, like Professor Shakeel Auj of Karachi, have been gunned down for having a more nuanced and sophisticated understanding and interpretation.

“And, as in the case of Asia Bibi, from the very outset, the other danger of these laws is that groups or mobs can exact petty personal revenge by a mere accusation of blaspheming.”

Asia Bibi has been imprisoned since 2009. After being sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, a hearing to appeal her death sentence has since been postponed and rescheduled time and again.

This latest pending hearing may be, quite literally, the court of last resort for Asia Bibi, who is a practicing Roman Catholic.

Earlier this year, her husband Ashiq Masih, and her 18-year-old daughter Aisham, met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. The Pope prayed with them and blessed a rosary, which he sent with them as his gift to the prisoner.

And now, with this latest update, hopes of Asia Bibi’s release are stirred anew, as her family revisits a plan to relocate to Europe where they will not live in constant fear of mob violence.

The potential hearing — which well may be postponed again — also intensifies the grim prospect, shared by many international observers, that Asia Bibi may be the first woman ever lawfully executed under Pakistan’s horrendous blasphemy law.

In the meantime, Asia Bibi again reminds the world of the cruel injustices inflicted by fanatical persecutors.

And her case provokes a deep longing that — somehow — prayer and advocacy will provide a joyful conclusion to her tragic story.

Lela Gilbert is an internationally recognized expert on religious persecution, an award-winning writer, and an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute who lived in Jerusalem for over a decade. Her book Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner received wide critical acclaim. She is also co-author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, and Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion. Follow her on Twitter@lelagilbert. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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