Pakistan court suspends death penalty of Christian woman
Lahore: A court on
Wednesday temporarily suspended the death sentence of a Christian woman accused
of blasphemy, her lawyer said, in a case that hit global headlines after the
murder of two politicians who tried to intervene on her behalf.
Asia Bibi, a farm
worker and mother of four, became the first woman to be sentenced to death
under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law in 2010. The Supreme Court will
soon begin hearing an appeal against her conviction, said lawyer
“The execution of Asia
Bibi has been suspended and will remain suspended until the decision of this
appeal,” Malook said. No date had been set for her execution, he added. The
prosecution lawyer was not available for comment. The law in predominantly
Muslim Pakistan does not define blasphemy but stipulates that the penalty is
While convictions for
blasphemy are fairly common, with most cases involving members of religious
minorities, a death sentence has never been carried out. But many people have
been killed by angry mobs after being accused of blasphemy.
Human rights activists
say accusations of blasphemy are skyrocketing because the law is often abused
to settle grudges and seize money or property. Attacks on those who have
questioned the blasphemy law and called for reform, including the murder of two
politicians who tried to intervene on behalf of Bibi, have stifled debate.
The governor of Punjab
province, Salman Taseer, was shot dead by a bodyguard in 2011 after he had
sought a presidential pardon for Bibi. The judge who later sentenced Taseer’s
killer had to flee the country. Islamist militants claimed responsibility for
the murder later in 2011 of the then sole Christian government minister for
challenging the blasphemy law.
The case against Bibi
followed accusations by two sisters who accused her of making derogatory
remarks about Islam. Her lawyers say her neighbours had a grudge against Bibi
because of an earlier dispute.
Malook said key
witnesses had not appeared during hearings by the High Court. “The real
eyewitnesses ... never appeared before the court and backed out,” he said.
Evidence in blasphemy trials often cannot be reproduced in court for fear of
committing another offence and judges and lawyers often refuse to hear cases
because they fear being attacked.
Lawyers who here
blasphemy cases are frequently threatened. A prominent human rights advocate
defending a professor accused of making a blasphemous facebook post was
murdered last year.