Islamabad (AFP): The accused in Pakistan’s most infamous blasphemy case has been granted a fresh chance to escape the gallows after the Supreme Court confirmed Friday it will hear Asia Bibi’s appeal against her execution next week.
Bibi, a Christian mother of five, has been on death row since 2010 in what some activists have called a battle for Pakistan’s soul as the state walks a sharp line between upholding human rights and appeasing populist hardliners.
“The Supreme Court of Pakistan under the chair of Justice Saqib Nisar will hear Asia Bibi’s appeal against her death sentence on Thursday, October 13 in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Islamabad,” her lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook told AFP.
The court confirmed Friday that the date had been set.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority 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.
Supporters of Mumtaz Qadri, an Islamist who assassinated provincial governor Salmaan Taseer after he advocated for Bibi in 2011, regularly call for her hanging.
A decision by the court in her favour would “send a powerful message to the world that Pakistan respects the rule of law and not the mob,” Mustafa Qadri, an expert on human rights in South Asia, told AFP recently.
He also predicted that supporters of the assassin Qadri would react violently to such a decision. The Islamist was hung earlier this year, bringing hardliners into the streets chanting slogans against Bibi, although they dispersed after several days.