Judicial process: Aasia Bibi’s lawyer gets hearing adjourned

Her husband claims they were not told about this prior to the hearing.


September 11, 2014

LAHORE: Aasia Bibi’s appeal in the Lahore High Court was adjourned yet again by a division bench on Wednesday, on a request by her lawyer who did not inform her family about his unavailability prior to the hearing.

Aasia Bibi, a Christian death row prisoner charged with blasphemy, has been in prison since 2009.

Her husband Ashiq Masih told The Express Tribune via email that he had arrived for the hearing at the Lahore High Court early morning on Wednesday hoping that the case would be decided. He said several of his family members had accompanied him. He said the hearing was number four on the court’s list. When the court reader announced the case, Ashiq Masih said, they were informed that Aasia’s counsel Naeem Shakir had filed an application for adjournment saying that he was out of the country.

A court bench comprising Justice Anwarul Haq and Justice Syed Shehbaz Ali Rizvi was informed that Shakir had requested adjournment. The court adjourned the case till October 16.

Ashiq Masih said four hearings on Aasia Bibi’s appeal had been adjourned for one reason or the other. “Over the past hearings, either we couldn’t get a date fixed for hearing or one of the judges would leave the country... this time it was her lawyer who said he was unavailable because he was out of the country,” he said.

Ashiq Masih said that Shakir had neither taken him nor Joseph Nadeem (who has been handling the case alongside Ashiq Masih) into confidence over the application for adjournment. He said there were several other lawyers including Advocate Yasin Badar of Free Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, and Advocate Khalil Tahir Sindhu who could have appeared in Shakir’s stead. Ashiq Masih said they had been shocked to learn that not only had Shakir decided not to appear in court, but he had filed an application seeking adjournment despite the presence of several lawyers.

Joseph Nadeem said that Shakir received more fee than any of the lawyers arguing Aasia Bibi’s case in court. “Yet he did not take any of the lawyers, or us, into confidence before filing an application for adjournment... he is simply trying to cash in on the case by visiting human rights organisations in other countries.”

Advocate Khalil Tahir Sindhu said that he was prepared to argue the case on Wednesday. He said everyone had been hopeful that the court would decide in Aasia Bibi’s favour. “But the court had no option but to adjourn the case because of Shakir’s application for adjournment.”

Advocate Nadeem Anthony, an associate of Shakir, told The Express Tribune that Shakir was not in the country and therefore could not argue the case. “I filed the plea for adjournment on Shakir’s instructions that he would argue the case after he returned from his trip abroad.” He said that Shakir did not want other lawyers to spoil the case and preferred to argue himself. Anthony said that Ashiq Masih was aware that Shakir was not in the country. “How could he appear before court if he’s not in the country?”

Aasia Bibi, 45, was imprisoned on June 19, 2009, after some of 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 Aasia Bibi and sentenced her to death in November 2010. A confirmation of the decision by the LHC is pending.

The case gained more attention when Governor Salmaan Taseer visited Aasia Bibi in jail and denounced her conviction. A few months later, Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard.

Advocate Anis AA Saadi, the FLAS chairman, told The Express Tribune that Aasia Bibi faced threats from her fellow inmates and jailers at Sheikhupura Jail. He said she was beaten by a member of the jail staff in October 2011. He said her appeal should be heard immediately to ensure her safety as she was not safe in the jail. He said he hoped that Lahore High Court would acquit her as there was ample evidence on record which would go in her favour.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2014.

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