July 22, 2015 by Janelle P

From World Watch Monitor & Other Sources

Pakistani Christian Aasiya Noreen (known as Asia Bibi) has been allowed to take her appeal against her death penalty for blasphemy to Pakistan’s Supreme Court in the capital of Islamabad. Until the Supreme Court reaches its final decision, Bibi cannot be executed.

Commentators today 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.”

In a statement from Chairman of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan, Rt. Rev Bishop Azad Marshall and Secretary General Victor Azariah, stated:

“…..The Supreme Court in its preliminary orders suspended the death penalty which was awarded by the Sessions Court and subsequently upheld by the High Court, under the blasphemy law. This order of the Supreme Court has paved the way for her possible complete acquittal.

“Now she could be released on bail, but due to the sensitivity of the issue it was advised that she should remain in jail for security reasons and wait for the final judgment of the Supreme Court….”

After her appeal in Lahore’s High Court was unsuccessful in October 2014, this is the last chance for the lawyers to appeal that her conviction should never have been allowed, due to inadmissible evidence.

While her previous appeal at the High Court in Lahore was rejected, the judges who turned it down conceded that they had based their ruling on a technicality, which they recommended be eliminated in future to make it more difficult to achieve blasphemy convictions.

The appeal judges explained they had no choice but to reject it, given the way Pakistan’s laws are written, and have turned to lawmakers to craft legislation that would empower trial courts to apply a test that would make future blasphemy convictions much more difficult to achieve. That test was not in place when Bibi 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 much criticism of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.

Bibi, 50, was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws when she received the death penalty on Nov. 7, 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 Bibi, 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.

Fifteen Pakistani Christians are currently believed to be facing the death penalty for blasphemy, including Sawan Masih, whose alleged blasphemy during a conversation with a Muslim friend in March 2013 resulted in the looting and torching of hundreds of homes within the predominantly Christian Joseph Colony in which he lived.

Compiled by Jerry Dykstra. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.

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