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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Pakistan delays ruling on blasphemy death sentence case

Radical Islamists use the blasphemy law to rally supporters and intimidate mainstream political parties

A member of the defence team representing Christian mother Asia Bibi on death row for blasphemy, in Islamabad on October 8, 2018. AFP
A member of the defence team representing Christian mother Asia Bibi on death row for blasphemy, in Islamabad on October 8, 2018. AFP

Pakistan's Supreme Court postponed its ruling Monday on the final appeal of a Christian woman who has been on death row since 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam.

The judicial panel listened to Asia Bibi's defense lawyer challenge statements by those who accused her of insulting Islam's prophet, an allegation punishable by death that can incite riots in conservative Pakistan.

The three-judge panel, headed by Pakistan's Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, did not say why they reserved their judgment or when they would announce their decision. It ordered everyone present to refrain from commenting on the case, in an apparent attempt to avoid inflaming public opinion.

The charge against Bibi dates back to a hot day in 2009 when she went to get water for her and her fellow farmworkers. Two Muslim women refused to take a drink from a container used by a Christian. A few days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy. She was convicted and sentenced to death.

Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Malook, argued that the many contradictions in witnesses' statements tainted the evidence. The two Muslim women who leveled the charges against Bibi denied they were quarrelling with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked. Yet several independent witnesses who gave statements recounted a cantankerous exchange between the women.

The prosecution's case centered mostly on religious texts that vilify those who make blasphemous statements.

Ahead of the hearing, Mr Malook expressed optimism that he would win the last legal appeal for Bibi. But if not, he planned to seek a review, which could take years to complete.

"I am a 100 percent sure she will be acquitted," Mr Malook said in a telephone interview on the eve of the hearing. "She has a very good case."

He refused to comment at the end of Monday's hearing, citing the judges' orders.

Bibi's case has generated international outrage, but within Pakistan it has fired up radical Islamists, who use the blasphemy law to rally supporters and intimidate mainstream political parties.

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