The reason? One of the three judges suddenly abstained from hearing the case
By Dan Wooding, Founder of ASSIST News Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (ANS -– October 13, 2016) — There is still no justice for Asia Bibi, the Pakistan Christian mother-of-five from rural Punjab province, as the Supreme Court appeal hearing against her death sentence that was due to take place today (Thursday, October 13, 2016), and which lasted all of two minutes, was adjourned for an indefinite period.
So now, Ms. Bibi, must wait once again to learn if she will be spared the gallows after the country’s top court adjourned amid tense scenes and heightened security in Islamabad.
The shocking postponement of her high profile case, which has drawn world-wide attention, came about after Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman abstained from the three-member bench, who were supposed to hear her appeal, when he told the court, “I was a member of the bench hearing the case of Salman Taseer (the then Governor of Punjab who was murdered for his support of Asia Bibi) and this case is related to that.” He then withdrew and the hearing was adjourned.
Now a new judge will have to be appointed, and there is no indication that this will take place soon.
Saif-ul-Mulook, the lawyer representing Asia Bibi, objected to the adjournment, but his protest was overruled and the bench refused to hear his objection.
“I was very well prepared and hopeful for the decision, but the case is adjourned and no new date is fixed for the hearing,” he told The Telegraph in the UK.
According to a Christian journalist, working with the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), Asia Bibi was not present in the court due to “security concerns,” but her husband Ashiq Masih could be seen “looking very nervous” throughout the short hearing.
Writing on my Facebook pages, Marion Burdon from Birmingham, England, commented, “So he [the judge] waited until court proceedings began before declaring the so-called conflict of interest, which isn’t really [the case] and he was not obliged to step down. Why did he not declare the connection when he was asked to take this role? One would think he wanted the further delay.”
On Thursday, 3,000 forces were deployed across the capital in anticipation of unrest or violence following a verdict.
In a case that has drawn international outrage, Ms. Bibi was convicted in 2010 for defaming the Prophet Mohammad during an argument with a group of Muslim women over a bowl of water. Not only did she deny that she ever made the alleged blasphemous remarks, but she has also stated that she had “great respect and honor for the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the Holy Quran.”
Asia Bibi has been on death row since her 2010 conviction. Appeals at lower courts have all failed, before the country’s top court temporarily suspended her sentence in July 2015.
“If Pakistan’s top court does not overturn her sentence, Mrs Bibi’s final hope is a pardon from Mamnoon Hussain, the president of Pakistan,” said The Telegraph.
“If that fails, she will become the first person to ever be hanged under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws. Her case has exposed deep fractures over blasphemy laws in the highly conservative Muslim state.”
Earlier, clerics at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, a mosque, vowed to take to the streets and prevent the Pakistan government from functioning if Ms. Bibi were released.
“Lal Masjid will become a centre for the anti-government movement if [Asia Bibi] is released,” a spokesman for the mosque’s foundation said.
According to The Telegraph, Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman was appointed to the supreme court in 2013, and led an inquiry into the deaths of eight Christians in Punjab’s Gojra riots in 2009, which were sparked by false blasphemy allegations.
His final report recommended that elements of the blasphemy law be reviewed to prevent its misuse.
Activists say Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are often used to persecute or settle private vendettas against the country’s vulnerable Christian minority.
Pakistan-born, Wilson Chowdhry, founder of the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), who is in Australia at this time meeting with politicians, shared his disappointment, saying, “Asia Bibi has suffered another postponement in her attempts to seek justice against the fabricated blasphemy charge that has left her imprisoned in isolation for seven years. Throughout her ad-infinitum legal saga, she has remained staunch and true to her faith, firmly believing God will set her free.
“However, each postponement, of which there were five during her failed High Court appeal, part of her fortitude was palpably diminished. This latest debacle evidences that the vaunted Supreme Court is not independent of societal, cultural and political pressure, indicating that justice may not be as easy to achieve as hoped through a frightened judiciary.
“Failing the exoneration of Asia that the whole world is waiting for through Pakistan’s failing legal system, her only hope will be a Presidential pardon. No president has ever exercised this authority before and President Mamnoon Hussain will be a very brave man to do this.”
He added: “Under the existing climate of extremism that has pervaded Pakistani society, intolerance has been bred through inculcated hatred via the education system in the country. It is a political failure that fundamentalism has hijacked the nation of Pakistan, but will Pakistan’s politicians be brave enough to make the right decision for a change and free poor Asia Bibi to make amends?”
So once again, we see another example of so-called Pakistan justice with Asia Bibi still incarcerated and held in solitary confinement after all these years for the “crime” of speaking out for Jesus. So I ask you to please pray that she will not lose hope and that, one day soon, she will be pardoned and freed.
Photo captions: 1) Asia Bibi. Will she ever get justice? 2) Her husband, Ashiq Masih, with some of the family members. 3) Salman Taseer with Asia Bibi as she is being finger printed. This meeting is believed to have cost him his life. 4) Pakistani Muslims demand the execution of Asia Bibi. 5) Supporters of the All Pakistan Minority Alliance (APMA) shout slogans for the release of Asia Bibi (Credit: Rahat Dar). 6) Dan Wooding with his BPCA award.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 75, is an award-winning winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for more than 53 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren, who all live in the UK. Dan is the founder and international director of the ASSIST News Service (ANS). He is the author of some 45 books, and has been a full-time journalist since 1968. While still based in London, Dan Wooding was a senior reporter for two of Great Britain’s largest-circulation newspapers, and was an interviewer for BBC Radio One and also for LBC, the capital city’s main commercial talk station. Dan now has a weekly radio show and two TV shows all based in Southern California. He has been given a special award by the British Pakistani Christian Association for his long-standing reporting on the persecution of Christians in Pakistan.
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