The judicial panel listened to Asia Bibi’s defence lawyer challenge statements by those who accused her of insulting Islam’s prophet.
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.
Bibi, a mother of five, was arrested in June 2009, after her neighbours complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Islam’s prophet, Mohammed. A year later, Bibi was sentenced to death under the blasphemy laws despite strong opposition from national and international human rights groups.
Her lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, said she stood a good chance to be released. “The incident happened on 14 June 2009, but the case was registered on 19 June 2009. The accused did not get the benefit of doubt. Legally, it is a weak case,” he said.
Pakistani Christians fear that even if she wins her appeal, and her blasphemy conviction is overturned, she will be prey to mob violence, as many Pakistanis are convinced she deserves to die.
Pakistan’s Christians and other religious minorities complain of legal and social discrimination in their country. In the past few years, many Christians and Hindus have been brutally murdered over unproven blasphemy allegations.
Blasphemy laws in Pakistan, where 97% of the population is Muslim, were introduced by the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. But activists say they are often implemented in cases that have little to do with blasphemy and are used to settle petty disputes and personal vendettas. Christians, Hindus and Ahmadis – a minority Islamic sect – are often victimised as a result.
Pakistan’s populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power in August, vowed to defend the country’s controversial blasphemy laws during his election campaign earlier this year.
Sources: World Watch Monitor, Deutsche Welle, The Washington Post