03/15/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Asia Bibi’s appeal to be heard by Lahore High Court

After more than four years in prison, sentenced to death without trial for "blasphemy", the Pakistani Christian will appear before High Court judges in two days time. The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, which has taken up her case, appeals to the court to "not give in to pressure from fundamentalists and make sure that justice wins out”.

Lahore ( AsiaNews) - After more than four years in prison, Lahore High Court judges will hear Asia Bibi's appeal on March 17.  The Pakistani Christian was sentenced to death without trial on the basis of the notorious "blasphemy law". A mother of five, Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 on charges of insulting Muhammad and then sentenced to death. The international community, the Catholic Church and several human rights organizations vigorously protested against this decision, which will now be analyzed by the Lahore High Court.

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement - a group that provides legal assistance to members of minorities in Pakistan and also Asia Bibi - confirms the appeal. The director of the Pakistani branch, Joseph Francis, states that he is hopeful that if there is no pressure on the judges by the extremists and the case is handled with care, consideration, and due diligence with the judges being left free to take their decision, her conviction will be overturned.

Nasir Saeed, from the British section, is less positive.  He says that it is "not going to be easy" for the judges as it is a very high profile case and the whole world will be watching.  He adds: "I pray that God will fill the hearts of the judges with boldness and courage and not allow fear to rule. I also hope that they follow the international norms and keep only justice in the forefront when reaching a decision".

The Christian mother of five children, was sentenced to death in November 2010 based on the "black law" and has been awaiting the outcome of her appeal since then, locked in solitary confinement in a women's prison in Sheikhupura (Punjab).  Many figures have campaigned for her release including the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer (pictured right with Asia Bibi ) and Shahbaz Bhatti, Minister for Religious Minorities: both were murdered at the hands of Islamic extremists. The Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also launched an appeal for Asia Bibi's release, as the women has physically and morally suffered in her long imprisonment.

The High Court will have to rule on the "crime" committed by Asia Bibi , that of drinking a glass of water from a well owned by a Muslim. She was accused of "infecting" the source which led to an argument with other women, and, finally, the charge of having "insulted the prophet Muhammad".

 

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