Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy finally given chance to appeal

Until the Supreme Court in Islamabad, the Muslim nation's capital city, reaches its final decision, 50-yr-old Bibi cannot be executed

Asia Bibi

A Pakistani Christian woman, Aasia Noreen (popularly known as Asia Bibi) who was sentenced to death for blasphemy has finally been allowed to appeal her case at the country's Supreme Court.

And until the Supreme Court in Islamabad, the Muslim nation's capital city, reaches its final decision, 50-yr-old Bibi cannot be executed.

According to reports from Christianity Today, the court has temporarily stayed her execution pending a full review of her case.

Commentators have praised the Supreme Court for its courage to hear the appeal in the face of strong public sentiment against anyone seen to denigrate Islam, with some calling it a “historic day for Pakistan.”

Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, appeared in front of three Supreme Court judges at the first hearing today. He explained her prospects in a thorough report by Morning Star News.

Christianity Today's says that after her appeal in Lahore's High Court was unsuccessful in October 2014, this is now the last chance for Noreen, the mother of five children, to appeal that her conviction should never have been allowed, due to inadmissible evidence.

The Lahore judges who rejected her appeal conceded that they had based their ruling on a technicality, which they recommended be eliminated in the future to make it much more difficult to achieve blasphemy convictions.

The judges explained they had no choice but to reject the appeal, given the way Pakistan’s laws are written, and turned to lawmakers to craft legislation that would empower trial courts to apply a test that would reduce charges of blasphemy. That test was not in place when Noreen was tried.

No more has yet been heard about what progress, if any, the lawmakers have made on this point.

Bibi's case has attracted worldwide attention and led to widespread criticism of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, as well as raised hopes the laws would finally be amended. A Christian teenager received Pakistan's first exoneration for blasphemy in 2013.

She was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws when she received the punishment in November 2010, after allegedly making derogatory comments about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman. She was found guilty of blasphemy under Article 295C of Pakistan’s penal code, which imposes death sentences for offenses of defamation against Muhammad.

The Muslim woman had refused water from Noreen, a colleague, on the grounds that it was “unclean” because it had been handled by a Christian. The Muslim woman and her sister were the only two witnesses in the case, but the defense failed to convince judges that their evidence lacked credibility.

Bibi was first arrested in the summer of 2009, and has since been confined to prison, mostly in the high-security District Jail Sheikhupura, 22 miles northwest of Lahore, and now in the women‘s jail in Multan.

In the High Court appeal hearing in October 2014, Noreen’s lawyer, Naeem Shakir, had argued that the main complainant in the case, the local Muslim cleric Mohamed Salaam, had not heard Noreen blaspheme.

Salaam's original complaint, known as a first information report, had been lodged five days after the women’s quarrel. Salaam has since been filmed by an international film crew, who made a film about Noreen this spring, stating it is his religious obligation to defend the dignity of the prophet and that is why he decided to be a witness before the court.

Her other main accuser, the owner of the field in which she worked, Mohamed Imran, was not present at the time of the quarrel either.

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