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Pakistan's Asia Bibi faces another Easter behind bars

As hopes for release vanish, evidence suggests she is being singled out

<p>Picture: Vatican Insider/La Stampa/Reuters</p>

Picture: Vatican Insider/La Stampa/Reuters

  • Paolo Affotato for Vatican Insider/La Stampa
  • Pakistan
  • April 15, 2014
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Asia Bibi, the 42-year-old Pakistani woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy will be spending Easter behind bars, in Multan women’s prison. Any faint hope of the case reaching a turning point before the feast of the Resurrection faded away before the steely resistance of the Lahore’s high court, where Bibi’s case is being heard.

This is the fourth time in two months that the trial has been postponed, with the court’s bureaucracy slowing things down. Today’s hearing was cancelled due to the absence of one of the two presiding judges. The court’s administration seems to be playing with this woman’s life, denying her justice.

Asia Bibi’s appeal was filed with the high court on 11 November 2010, three days after she was sentenced to death on 8 November. But mainly thanks to religious and political pressure, a date for the proceedings was set four years later. At least that is what the defence team made up of Christian and Muslim lawyers hoped after a date for the first hearing was set last February.

This is when the “litany of postponements” began, with all sorts of reasons being presented: first the lawyers arguing against Asia Bisbi’s case were absent, then one of the judges was ill, then the college of judges adjourned the hearing (because one judge was transferred) and the case passed on to another college. All of the reasons given were plausible until today, when lawyers announced the hearing was being postponed “to a later date”.

The postponement is apparently for administrative reasons but is in fact completely unjustified. While the entire corpus of case files – including Asia Bibi’s - sits on the desk of the new judges, with hearings going ahead as scheduled, Asia Bibi’s seems to have been completely forgotten about. Her case is the only exception and this seems rather strange given that it is so emblematic of the heated debate going on both nationally and internationally between supporters and opponents of the controversial blasphemy law.

But the huge media attention the case has received – after appeals were made by Benedict XVI, the European Parliament and international leaders – is in fact a double-edged sword. This is why Catholic leader Paul Bhatti who was Minister of Minorities until a year ago strove to keep a low profile. In the eyes of fundamentalists, Asia Bibi is a blasphemer and no one can persuade them otherwise. Two Pakistani politicians were killed for supporting her case, including Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic and Salman Taseer, a Muslim.

Judges feel intimidated by this violence. They politely avoid Asia Bibi’s case and it is hard to find a judge who will take it on and speak out. As with many other blasphemy cases in the past, the high court could easily overturn the ruling of first instance and acquit Asia Bibi of wrongdoing. So who will now take on the responsibility of releasing Asia Bibi “the blasphemer”, offending the Prophet and becoming an “accomplice to blasphemy”? This person would be doomed.

Full Story: Pakistan: Asia Bibi to spend Easter behind bars

Source: Vatican Insider/La Stampa

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