ISLAMABAD: Supreme Court on Thursday adjourned the hearing of Aasia Bibi’s final appeal against her execution in a blasphemy case for an indefinite period.
A three-bench headed by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar adjourned the hearing for an indefinite period after Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman recused himself from the case. “I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that,” he told the court, an AFP reporter said. The court did not immediately set a new date for the appeal.
Thousands of security troops had been deployed in the capital as the court readied to hear a final appeal in the case of Asia Bibi, with observers warning of “tremendous” repercussions for minorities in deeply conservative Pakistan.
Speaking to the media, Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook claimed that he has been receiving threats and hoped that the government would take it seriously.
Following the court’s decision, Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, counsel for the complainant against Aasia Bibi said, “We are not pressurising the court, we are ready to accept the court’s decision.”
A senior police official told AFP that up to 3,000 forces had been deployed over the capital.
“Security is very tight in Islamabad all around today. Additional troops have been deployed on checkpoints and city junctions in general. There is also deployment of paramilitary force Rangers and FC (Frontier Corps) on some additional points,” a second police source told AFP.
Up to 100 officers, many in riot gear, had been stationed outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad Thursday as Bibi’s lawyer and husband arrived for the hearing, an AFP reporter said, with more throughout the city.
“I have made my preparation, we are very hopeful,” Bibi’s lawyer told AFP earlier.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan. Anyone even accused of insulting Islam risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.
Rights groups complain the controversial legislation is often abused to carry out personal vendettas, mainly against minority Christians.
Bibi was convicted and sentenced to hang in 2010 after an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water. Her supporters maintain her innocence and insist it was a personal dispute.
But successive appeals have been rejected, and if the Supreme Court bench upholds Bibi’s conviction, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency.
She would become the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy. The repercussions for minorities, human rights and the blasphemy laws will be “tremendous” if that happens, says Shahzad Akbar, a human rights lawyer.
Observers have warned of possible violence if the conviction is overturned, with some calling the case a battle for Pakistan’s soul as the state walks a line between upholding human rights and appeasing hardliners.