Originally published in The Gospel Herald
Christian Asia Bibi had been the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. Now the country’s Supreme Court has suspended the sentence until a final decision is made on her appeal.
According to a report from BBC News, 50-year-old Bibi has been on death row for nearly five years after being convicted of blasphemy in regards to the Prophet Mohammed. She denied making the insults and noted that her Muslim accusers acted on a personal grudge.
“The execution of Asia Bibi has been suspended and will remain suspended until the decision of this appeal,” her lawyer said to reporters outside the court.
BBC News reported that Pakistan considers blasphemy as a highly sensitive issue. However, critics have argued that blasphemy laws are often misused to “settle personal scores” with minority groups such as Christians and Ahmadis.
“Pakistan has never executed anyone for blasphemy, but some people accused of the offense in the past have been lynched by crowds,” BBC News wrote. “Lawyers, judges and those seeking to reform the blasphemy laws have also been threatened, attacked or even killed.”
“The bench observed that the court would examine the record of the case for administration of justice,” Nation wrote. “The court also observed that the appeal was filed 11 days after the lapse of the stipulated time.”
According to Nation, key witnesses failed to appear during hearings from Pakistan’s high court.
“The real eyewitnesses never appeared before the court and backed out,” lawyer Saiful Mulook said.
The Nation reported that two politicians who previously tried to intervene on Bibi’s behalf and called for reforms to the blasphemy law have been attacked.
“Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by a bodyguard in 2011 after he had sought a presidential pardon for Bibi,” Nation wrote. “The judge who later sentenced Taseer’s killer had to flee the country.”
The Nation also reported that although Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are not clearly defined, a conviction results in the death penalty. However, while convictions for blasphemy are common, no one has been executed yet.
“Evidence in blasphemy trials often cannot be reproduced in court for fear of committing another offence and judges often refuse to hear cases because they fear being attacked,” Nation wrote. “Lawyers who hear blasphemy cases are frequently threatened.”
Despite the ruling, BBC News reported that Bibi’s family still lives in hiding due to the many death threats they have received. In addition, thousands of protesters have vowed to kill her if she is released from prison, including an imam from her own village.
“Since the 1990s, scores of Christians have been convicted for desecrating the Koran or for blasphemy,” BBC News wrote.