A photo taken Oct. 29, 2014, of a sign used during a Paris demonstration supporting Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of five who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010 after being accused by Muslim women of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. (Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP)
Pakistan's top judge has announced he will take up the appeal of a Catholic mother of five children who has been on death row since 2010 for blasphemy.
Chief Justice Saqib Nisar told lawyer Saif ul Malook — the chief counsel for Asia Bibi — to prepare for her appeal.
"Be ready, Saif ul Malook. I am going to fix your case soon and I myself will preside over the bench," Nisar told Malook on April 21.
The judge made his comments as the lawyer appeared before the Supreme Court seeking police protection for taking on Bibi's case after it had been withdrawn by the Punjab police. Nisar ordered the Punjab police to again provide Malook with protection.
Malook said that he had high hopes of Bibi's conviction being struck down by the Supreme Court.
Bibi was arrested in 2009 for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with Muslim women at an orchard in a small town in Punjab province.
Bibi has maintained her innocence and said she was punished for daring to drink water meant for Muslims only. Many Muslims in the Islamist country regard Christians as impure due to a deep-rooted culture of religious discrimination.
In November 2010, a trial court convicted Asia Bibi for blasphemy and sentenced her to death. Four years later, the Lahore High Court upheld her death sentence.
The Supreme Court admitted her appeal in July 2015 and the first appeal took place on Oct. 13, 2016, but the top court adjourned the hearing after one of the three judges on the bench, Justice Iqbal Hameed-ur-Rehman, recused himself, claiming a conflict of interest.
Since then the Supreme Court has been unable to set up a new bench to hear Bibi's appeal. This appears to have now changed with Nisar's court declaration.