On October 13, 2016, the Supreme Court of Pakistan announced the adjournment of the final trial of Asia Bibi, who was condemned to death for blasphemy in 2010. One of the three judges withdrew on the pretext that he had already been a judge for the trial of Mumtaz Qadri, which was connected with the Asia Bibi affair. On October 10, 2011, Mumtaz Qadri was condemned to death by hanging for the assassination on January 4, 2011 of Salman Taseer, governor of the province of Pendjab. Mumtaz Qadri was the governor’s bodyguard, and killed him for “supporting the blasphemer Asia Bibi” and criticizing anti-blasphemy laws. The condemnation of the governor of Pendjab’s bodyguard caused a great sensation among many of the country’s Islamists, who took his side.
The information agency Eglises d’Asie (EdA) voiced its surprise on October 13, 2016 that the Supreme Court judge withdrew only a few hours before the hearing. The date of the trial and the names of the three judges who were to rule on the affair had been known for several weeks. EdA supposes that “this last-minute withdrawal leads to believe there is strong pressure coming from the Islamists,” perhaps even “real death threats.” On the eve of the hearing, the leaders of the Red Mosque, an Islamist fief situated in the heart of the capital Islamabad, warned that they would launch protests throughout the whole country if the Christian was released. EdA also recalled that the Catholic minister of Religious Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated in 2011 for defending Asia Bibi.
The ministry of Justice now has to designate a new judge. The process should take several weeks, or even several months.
Accused of blasphemy by a Muslim neighbor after a dispute over a bowl of water, Asia Bibi has been in prison for 6 years. She was condemned in her first trial in November 2010, then by the Appeals court in October 2014. If the Supreme Court, the highest court in the Pakistani judiciary system, confirms the capital punishment, her only hope will be a possible presidential pardon.
(sources: apic/cath-info/eda – DICI no.343 dated Oct. 28, 2016)