An appeal against her blasphemy conviction by Aasia Bibi was fixed for hearing on February 14, three years after it was filed, but not taken up by the court, The Express Tribune learnt on Monday.
Bibi’s criminal appeal number 2509/10 ‘Mst Aasia Bibi vs The State’ and murder reference 614/10 ‘State Vs Mst Aasia Bibi w/o Ashiq’ was fixed for hearing before the Lahore High Court division bench.
The court administration had informed her counsel. Ashiq Masih, Bibi’s husband, said “It was a ray of hope for me and my children…the court might reconsider the facts of the case and release her”.
The counsel were later informed that the hearing had been cancelled.
Her counsel, Muhammad Yasin of the Free Legal Aid and Settlement (FLAS), told The Express Tribune that on February 14 the LHC administration had informed him through an SMS that the hearing had been “cancelled by order”.
He said the matter was very sensitive and the LHC was fully aware of this.
He said the original case file was not kept with other files but in an officer’s cabinet. He said a photocopy of the appeal had been placed in the regular record room for reference.
He said the cause list was cancelled because one of the judges on the division bench had gone on leave that day. He said he could not predict the next date of hearing.
Bibi, 45, has been in jail since June 19, 2009 after her neighbours in a village near Nankana Sahib accused her of making derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). An additional district and sessions judge convicted and sentenced her to death in November 2010. The confirmation of the decision by the LHC has been pending. The case attracted more attention when Governor Salmaan Taseer visited Bibi in jail and denounced her conviction as well as the blasphemy law. A few months later, Taseer was murdered by his official bodyguard.
Advocate Anis AA Saadi, the FLAS chairman, told The Express Tribune that Bibi faced threats from fellow inmates and her jailers at Sheikhupura Jail. He said she had been badly beaten by a member of jail staff in October 2011.
He said her appeal should be heard immediately to ensure her safety. He said he hoped the high court would acquit her.
He said Bibi’s conviction for blasphemy was inconsistent with the evidence presented in her case.
If not acquit her, he said the court would likely reduce her sentence. He said her allegedly blasphemous utterances had come in a quarrel with some Muslim neighbours, who had refused to drink water from the same glass as her because she was Christian.
He said the trial’s record showed that there were several loopholes in the prosecution’s case, including her extrajudicial confession, inconsistencies in the testimony of prosecution witnesses, and procedural errors on the part of the police.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2014.