A long wait for Aasia Bibi

Published: July 22, 2011
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Aasia Bibi's is arguably the most ‘controversial’ case in the country’s recent legal history. PHOTO: Reuters

She has already suffered a lot but it looks like a longer, more painful and tiresome journey lies ahead for her.

Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sent to the gallows by a district court in central Punjab last year for committing blasphemy, will have to wait for several years before the Lahore High Court (LHC) takes up her application, seeking review of the lower judiciary’s verdict.

Lawyers associated with the case have indicated that it is unlikely that the LHC would take up any time soon the review petition in arguably the most ‘controversial’ case in the country’s recent legal history.

A lawyer from Nankana district, who fought a frustrated legal battle to defend Bibi in blasphemy charges levelled against her by a village prayer leader, said the LHC was now hearing review petitions filed back in 2006-07.

Another lawyer in Lahore, who filed the review petition, said the chief justice had the authority to take up any significant case on priority basis but it seemed not to be happening in Bibi’s petition. The lawyer, who requested his name not be mentioned, said further that there might be considerable pressure on the court when the case comes up for hearing. The situation, particularly after the assassination of Salmaan Taseer is such that even the lawyer who filed the review petition is unsure whether he would be able to pursue the case or not.

Two months after Taseer’s death, federal minister for minority affairs Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed in Islamabad by unidentified assailants.  That, the lawyer said, seems to have frightened all those who initially supported Aasia Bibi because they all think that even speaking in her favour would be harmful for their lives.

The Aasia Bibi sentence last year generated an international outcry with human rights bodies and governments in the West demanding that Pakistan review its ‘controversial’ blasphemy law introduced by former dictator Ziaul Haq in the 1980s and thought to be discriminatory to minorities.

The government initially promised to review the law, which proposed a death sentence for anybody insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), but had to retreat from that commitment after the country’s right-wing elements rallied in support of it and threatened the then government of Pervez Musharraf against any change.

Zia Khan

Zia Khan

A reporter for The Express Tribune based in Islamabad.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.