Human Rights Group Tells Pakistan Supreme Court “Expedite Asia Bibi Hearing”
PAKISTANI MINORTY

By Michael Ireland, ASSIST News Service On October 19, 2014

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM (ANS) — As reaction pours in from around the world to yesterday’s Lahore High Court ruling upholding the death sentence for Asia Bibi in her wrongful blasphemy suit, a Christian human rights watchdog group is calling on the Supreme Court of Pakistan to expedite a hearing in the case, and a London-based music band that is “disgusted” with the decision has launched a music video supporting the imprisoned mother of five children.

asia bibi

In an audible and visual show of its disgust at the high court decision, ooberfuse, an electronica band from Woolwich, London today released FREE, a music video crying out for an end to the persecution of non-Muslim religious minorities in Pakistan and around the world. They join a British Pakistani Christian Association protest this Saturday from 11:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m. at 10 Downing Street, the London residence of British Prime Minister David Cameron.Cherrie Anderson, frontwoman of the band, explained: “We have been calling out for Asia’s release ever since we translated Asia’s autobiography into English. Asia’s own words inspired our defiant anthem FREE. We will carry on our campaign until religious minorities around the world enjoy the freedoms people of all faiths and none enjoy here in the UK.”

The human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) also calls for her security and wellbeing to be guaranteed in the interim.

The Lahore High Court rejected Asiya Bibi’s appeal against her death sentence for blasphemy on October 16 in the presence of the complainant cleric Qari Saleem and representatives from Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD), the political wing of the violent militant organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

The ever-growing influence of extremist groups in Pakistan is highlighted in CSW’s recent Pakistan briefing as a key concern; in addition to fabricating blasphemy accusations, they frequently threaten and even kill relatives of those accused as well as lawyers working on blasphemy cases.

CSW said Asia Bibi was arrested on June 19, 2009 in Ittanwalai village, Sheikhupura district, close to Lahore, and held in detention for over a year before being officially charged. On November 12, 2010, she was sentenced to death for blasphemy on account of defaming the Prophet Muhammad under section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code. The initial charges were brought by a local cleric named Maulvi Qari Saleem, two days after two of Asiya Bibi’s colleagues alleged that she had insulted the Prophet after a petty dispute.

“Asia Bibi has endured grueling conditions in nearly four years of detention on death row, much of it spent in solitary confinement. Her health has suffered and she has had severe restrictions on visitors. This is in part due to security concerns, as blasphemy law victims are prone to violent abuse. There has been a lack of progress in her case, with five hearings cancelled this year alone, as well as the intimidation of judges and lawyers,” CSW said.

Ms Michelle Chaudhry, President of the Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) stated: “We are disappointed and terribly upset over the decision, however we look forward to the appeal in the Supreme Court, with optimism and with the hope that the Supreme Court of Pakistan will do justice in this case, as Asia Bibi has wrongly been convicted of blasphemy. We remain optimistic that the rule of law will prevail and justice will be done. For now that is our only hope.”

“Given the spurious grounds of her case, the unfair trial proceedings and the unjustified solitary confinement she has endured in jail, CSW is calling on the Supreme Court to expedite a hearing on Asia Bibi’s case,” CSW said.

On June 19, a Supreme Court judgment intended to improve access to justice for minorities recommended the establishment of “a special (judicial) bench to entertain complaints of violations of fundamental rights of minorities in the country.”

CSW says, “a proactive approach to providing justice for Asia Bibi would prove the Supreme Court’s commitment to ensuring fundamental human rights and justice for all citizens of Pakistan.”

CSW’s Chief Operating Officer Andy Dipper said: “We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the Lahore High Court. Asia Bibi’s sentence is a tragic reminder of the continued abuse of the dysfunctional blasphemy laws and the underlying weaknesses in Pakistan’s justice system. Deeply-rooted problems of prejudice, inefficiency, corruption, and under-resourcing are amplified in blasphemy cases, and even more so for religious minorities. The only hope she has for justice is when the case is heard in the Supreme Court. We urge Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk to consider Asiya Bibi’s case with the utmost urgency, and to ensure her safety both throughout and after the process.”

“Asia will remain on a death sentence and now she has right of second appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan,” said a spokesman for Legal Evangelical Association Development (LEAD) in Pakistan.

LEAD says it intends to file her second appeal within 30 days if the mutual understanding will be developed among her all lawyers for an end to the disturbance which was created during appeal arguments by some of her lawyers.

Advocate Sardar Mushtaq Gill, a Human Rights Defender was present along with his team consisting on Aric John, advocate high court, Hadayt Bashir, advocate high court and Qaiser Younas ,court clerk of LEAD.

LEAD says in a report obtained by ANS, that the case was called and there were a number of Lawyers to represent her. Abruptly Sardar Tahir Khalil Sindhu and Ch.Naeem Shakar started to argue the case, but they were hindered by Justice Anwal-ul Haq and he ordered and directed all the lawyers,who were present to represent the Appellant, to first decide which lawyer would argue the case.

“On this, it was decided that Ch.Naeem Shakar , who is senior lawyer, would argue the case. He well argued the case and seemed that his preparation was very much appreciated. The court gave a plenty of time for him to argue and to assist the court to decide the appeal decision.

“In second half of the presentation, the point was raised by the court, as to why the two eye-witnesses before whom the incident occurred and derogatory remarks were uttered, were not cross-examined and challenged in the trial. On this question, Ch.Naeem Shakar and Sardar Tahir Khalil Sindhu remained silent and pointed towards S.K Choudhary, who filed appeal and contested the trial.

“S.K. Choudhary requested the court one hour for his arguments, and the court said that he could take enough time to argue as he wished to take, but the court said that the court would not give time for arguments by any other lawyer except him. He started to argue the case, and he argued well, and his arguments were appreciable, but the court again asked the same from him: why he could not cross-examine the two eye witnesses in trial.

“He argued and explained how the particular derogatory remarks could be cross-examined as being Muslim, (but) on this the court said ‘here we are not Muslims, we are for justice only, and being lawyers it is our responsibility to represent the accused for justice and our faith should be at home.’ On this main ground, which is flawed and a drawback of the trial proceedings and defense side, the court dismissed the appeal because the statement of eye-witnesses could not be challenged and cross- examined means the alleged allegation against the accused is true and admitted fact.”

LEAD said the same things happened at bail stage that’s why mostly defense lawyers ,who are on payroll of organizations, are not able to get released the accused on bail in blasphemy cases, because they would not prefer to take ‘life risk’ and they just fulfill legal formalities for their jobs in such blasphemy cases.

LEAD stated: “So our request to national and international organizations, (is to) please consider the safety and security of lawyers who represent blasphemy-accused (defendants), preferably so that the fear that if he would be killed who will care his family (will) be mitigated and taken out from their minds. This can be only possible if you will provide practically (sic) security and training to the lawyers for their encouragement.

“It is also requested you on behalf of Asia Bibi to write petitions and letters to send the Pakistani authorities to make her released because she is suffering for faith, and she is innocent, and struggle with us for religious liberty for individuals and raise voice with us for the repeal of blasphemy law and to end religious extremism.”

Meanwhile, International Christian Voice says that the world has seen Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer and Christian Martyr Shahbaz Bhatti “die in their efforts to stop the misuse blasphemy laws, yet absolutely nothing is being done.”

The group says Asia Bibi has been serving her time in person since the year 2010. “She was falsely accused of making derogatory comments towards Prophet Muhammad due to a personal dispute at work. Past experiences of blasphemy have proven time and time again that the law is being misused to settle personal disputes yet the courts are not taking this into consideration.

“We demand that the government of Pakistan take serious measures in the case of Asia Bibi. This case has caught international attention and the world continues to plead for the freedom of Asia Bibi. However, the injustice against this innocent mother of five continues,” said Peter Bhatti, Chairman, International Christian Voice Canada http://internationalchristianvoice.com

“ICV asks the government of Pakistan, where is the justice in the justice system? Why is the system that is meant to protect and provide justice igniting the flames of injustice? Something must be done about this immediately.”

Paolo Affatato, writing from Rome for the Vatican Insider, says: “There is no justice for Asia Bibi. The Lahore High Court, a court of second instance, has upheld the death sentence for the Pakistani Christian woman accused of blasphemy.”

Affatato says that speaking to Fides news agency, Naeem Shakir, one of the lawyers defending Asia Bibi, said the ruling betrayed the expectations and trust of the defense. The case will now be passed on to the country’s Supreme Court, where Asia Bibi will present an appeal. This will be the final step before hanging.

He writes: “A broad and detailed appeal was presented during this morning’s hearing, which finally took place after numerous postponements. The case against Bibi – which was based on an allegedly ‘deliberate act of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad’ – was dismantled piece by piece. Bibi was sentenced by a crooked court of first instance, on November 8, 2010. The sentence was mainly based on testimonial evidence.”

Affatato says the main figures in the prosecution are: the complainant, Qari Mohammad Salam, an imam of a mosque in the village of Ittanwali, in the district of Nankana Sahib in Punjab – the village where Bibi was born and lived for 40 years with her humble farming family – and two Muslim nuns, also farm workers, who had argued with Bibi while they were working in the fields. Bibi said the two nuns refused to drink from the same spring as she had because they considered her to be “impure.” This sparked a row which turned from malice and bitterness into an “act of blasphemy.”

Affatato reports: “The picture seemed crystal clear and, according to the principles of criminal justice, there was good reason to be optimistic. After all, Salam, the main accuser was not even physically present when the alleged crime was committed and had not actually heard the woman pronounce the blasphemous words she is accused of uttering. An absurd and paradoxical situation by normal standards, according to criminal proceedings and according to the law: evidence that amounts to hearsay, cannot be admitted at trial.”

He continues: “The personal prejudices of the two women and the fact that the man was physically absent from the ‘scene of the crime,’ were encouraging factors and a reason for Bibi’s defense to be confident. The defending body includes Christian lawyers such as Naeem Shakir, S.K. Choudry, Sardar Mushtaq Gill and the current human rights minister for the Punjab province, Khalil Tahir Sindhu, a Catholic. All very competent men with an extensive experience of blasphemy cases. They say there have been countless cases of acquittals and victories being announced in court in what have often amounted to fabricated legal cases.”

“And yet,” says Affatato, “after a four-hour hearing, the two-member college of judges, chaired by Justice Anwar ul Haq, rejected the arguments presented by the defense which contested the contradictions in the evidence presented by the prosecution and the lack of credibility. The judge ignored another key point: the obvious fabrication of false accusations. Indeed, the blasphemy charges were made after a village assembly led by the imam, just days after the quarrel. What makes it seem obvious that the whole thing is part of a setup, is the delay with which the incident was reported to the police: the complaint was lodged and recorded on June 19, 2009, a whole five days after the incriminating episode took place. Here again, the law clearly favors the defense, the lawyers say.”

“The judge upheld the accusations made by the two Muslim women who testified to the alleged act of blasphemy committed by Asia,” Shakir says, visibly let down.

Affatato says radical Islamists influenced the judge’s decision: “Asia Bibi’s case is emblematic of a woman having a bounty placed on her head, by an imam who is promising to reward the person who kills her.”

He writes that Pakistan’s magistrates recall the murder of Arif Iqbal Bhatti, a Lahore High Court judge, who was killed in 1997 after he acquitted two young Christians, Salamat and Rehmat Masih. The two Christians had been sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy by a court of first instance. The judge’s death is still a warning and a threat to the courts.

“The battle continues despite the obstacles and difficulties that present themselves, with the added help of a foreseeable international reaction. Bibi’s family will be appealing to the Supreme Court, Pakistan’s highest court of law,” says Affatato.

He reports that the Court is headed by Chief of Justice Tasaduq Hussain Jillani, an eminent Muslim figure and the country’s most important magistrate. “Jillani has often shown himself to be a far-sighted man who takes a balanced view of things. Last June, he showed great courage in issuing a historic ‘suo motto’ ruling protecting religious minorities in Pakistan and ordering the constitution of the National Council for the rights of minorities.”

Affatato says his gesture was seen by Pakistani Christians as an “act which gives renewed strength to rule of law” in the country. “This is precisely what is needed in the tragic case of Asia Bibi who has been languishing behind bars for the past five years.

asia bibi image

Picture of Asia Bibi  she needs your Prayers
Legal arguments that have taken place in the courtroom in this case covered by Asif Aqeel, can be found at https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2014/10/3430018/

Editor
Rev Baber George
revgeorge777@gmail.com

Advertisements