Pakistani Supreme Court reserves judgement on Asia Bibi blasphemy case

By Christine Rousselle

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Ashiq Mesih and Eisham Ashiq, Asia Bibi's husband and daughter, speak to CNA in Rome, April 15, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

Pakistanís Supreme Court has reserved judgement on the verdict of Asia Bibi, a Roman Catholic woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy, several Pakistani news sources reported on Monday.

The three-judge bench who was assembled to hear Bibiís final appeal of her 2010 conviction declined to announce their decision on the verdict, and it is unknown when they will do so.

The reasons for the delay were not immediately made clear.

In 2009, Bibi was accused of making disparaging remarks about the Islamic prophet Muhammad after an argument stemming from a cup of water. Bibi was harvesting berries with other farm workers when she was asked to get water from a well.

Another person saw her drinking water from a cup that had previously been used by Muslims, and informed Bibi that it was not proper for a Christian to use that cup, as she was unclean. An argument ensued, and Bibi was reported to a Muslim cleric five days later for her supposed blasphemy. Bibi and her family were the only Christians in the area, and had faced pressure to convert to Islam.

She was convicted of blasphemy in 2010, and was sentenced to death by hanging. She immediately appealed. The Lahore High Court upheld conviction in 2014, which she then appealed to the countryís Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear her appeal in 2015.

Since her arrest, Bibi has garnered international support from numerous world leaders calling for her immediate release, including Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. In 2015, Pope Francis met with her daughter and offered prayers.

In Pakistan, Islamic hardliners have been calling for her execution since her initial conviction. Pakistanís Prime Minister Imran Khan said that he supports the countryís harsh blasphemy laws.

If her appeal fails, Bibi would become the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy. In Pakistan, the crime of defaming Muhammad carries a mandatory death sentence.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws impose strict punishment on those who desecrate the Quran or who defame or insult Muhammad. Pakistan's state religion is Islam, and around 97 percent of the population is Muslim.

Although the government has never executed a person under the blasphemy law, accusations alone have inspired mob and vigilante violence.

Blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3 percent of the Pakistani population, 14 percent of blasphemy cases have been levied against them.

Many of those accused of blasphemy are murdered, and advocates of changing the law are also targeted by violence.

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