Asia Bibi, 45, is a Christian Pakistani woman who was convicted of blasphemy and has been in jail since June 19, 2009. In 2010, judges convicted and sentenced her to death by hanging under Section 295B and 295C of Pakistan's Penal Code by a court in the Punjab Province, Pakistan. With this verdict, she has become the first woman condemned to death on blasphemy charges in Pakistan.
Asia Bibi has consistently denied the allegations of blasphemy and has always maintained that she was falsely accused. She has remained in prison since her arrest 5 years ago. An appeal against the blasphemy conviction was fixed for a hearing on February 14, 2014, three years after it was filed, however, this was cancelled because one of the judges on the division bench had gone on leave that day.
The hearing was then rescheduled to take place on March 17, 2014, at the Lahore High Court. However, once again due to the absence of one of the responsible judges, the appeal has been postponed for the second time and according to Pakistani law, two judges are required to be present in death penalty cases. A new date for the appeal hearing has not been set.
The current political situation in Pakistan makes it very difficult to openly discuss blasphemy cases. Since the general elections in May last year, the ongoing discussion about the blasphemy law has been silenced mainly due to rising pressure from religious parties. The news about the second postponement of Asia Bibi’s appeal does not come as a surprise.
A number of human rights groups both in Pakistan and abroad are supporting Ms Bibi’s appeal which has made her case high profile and subsequently difficult for politicians to handle. Often judges are threatened and in 2011, the governor of the Punjab province, Mr Salman Taseer was killed by a group of people who could not accept any questioning over the blasphemy law.
GHRD hopes Asia Bibi will have a fair trial in which legal procedures are followed. We expect a new date for the appeal to be proposed soon.
The European Parliament Working Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief published a statement on the issue yesterday:
Brussels, 19 March 2014
from the European Parliament Working Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief on the case of Asia Bibi (Pakistan)
European Parliament Working Group on Freedom of Religion or Belief (EPWG on FoRB) co-Presidents Peter van Dalen and Dennis de Jong issued the following statement today:
"We welcome the decision by the High Court in Lahore to process the appeal to her death sentence from Asia Bibi (Asia Noreen).
"We take note of the two hearings that have been organized in the Lahore High Court and regret that the responsible judges were on leave on both occasions. We trust that the responsible judges will be present for the third hearing, which is soon to be organized.
"We call on all those involved in the case to show courage and to not give in to any external pressure or threat. We call on the Pakistani government to safeguard the independence and the proper functioning of the Lahore High Court. Furthermore we urge the Pakistani authorities to provide sufficient protection to all those involved in the case, now and following a possible future court decision.
"The EPWG on FoRB will continue to closely monitor this case as well as other cases involving the blasphemy laws in Pakistan."
In its 2013 report the EPWG on FoRB commented that Pakistan must 'reform the way the country deals with the blasphemy laws and its frequent abuse, with a view to a future repeal of the most dangerous sections including Article 295 (B) and 295 (C) of the Pakistani Penal Code.'
GHRD supports the statement above and believes that the blasphemy laws in Pakistan are being used to violate the rights of people of all religions including religious minorities and Muslims.
The right to a fair trial is an essential right in all countries which respect the rule of law. Pakistan has signed and ratified a number of international treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) yet is not upholding rights recognised by the core human rights instruments of the UN.
GHRD welcomes the decision by the High Court in Lahore to process the appeal. However, GHRD is concerned about the right of fair trial in this case. Asia Bibi has been in jail since 2009 and for the second time her hearing has been postponed due the absence of a judge. We trust that the third hearing will be organised soon and that the responsible judges will be present.
GHRD is closely monitoring the case of Asia Bibi and is calling for the international community to show its support to changes regarding the right to justice, access to fair trial and the blasphemy law.
Press release taken from: http://www.religiousfreedom.eu/our-work/press-releases/