LAHORE, Pakistan (BP) — Pakistan’s Supreme Court Wednesday (July 22) agreed to review the case of a Christian mother sentenced to death on a blasphemy charge, temporarily suspending her execution.
Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, is the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan. The three-judge bench of the Supreme Court at the Lahore Registry admitted for hearing her petition challenging the sentence.
Attorney Saif-ul-Malook told Morning Star News that he had a strong case for demanding Noreen’s acquittal.
“Asia Bibi has claimed that she had not made any blasphemous remarks, and that rather her fellow villagers had leveled the allegation against her based on a personal feud,” Malook said. “The FIR [First Information Report] against my client was registered five days after the alleged incident had taken place. The mala fide intent is quite visible as the prolonged delay in lodging the case implies that the complainants had plenty of time to cook up the allegations against Asia Bibi.”
Malook said that in a previous blasphemy case, Ayub Masih v. State in 2002, judges had thrown out the death sentence against Masih due to a three-hour delay in the registration of the FIR. Attorney Naeem Shakir made the same contention before the Lahore High Court in October last year — that the main complainant, local Muslim cleric Mohammad Salaam, had not heard Noreen blaspheme, and that his original FIR had been filed five days after the women’s quarrel.
Shakir had argued in his appeal that during the trial the only reason given for this delay was “deliberation and consultation,” and said that cleric Salaam had acknowledged this in court.
Salaam, the main accuser, had told the high court that the FIR got delayed because he had investigated the charges himself first, Malook said. Salaam has said on record that his religious obligation to defend the dignity of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was the basis for his decision to be a court witness. He said he had only heard Noreen allegedly confess to blasphemy when she had been brought before a Panchayat (local village council) several days after the quarrel.
Noreen’s other main accuser, the owner of the field where she worked, Muhammad Imran, was not present at the time of the quarrel either; he was away from the village at the time.
Arrested in June 2009 after Muslim co-workers in a berry field 60 miles west of Lahore beat her when she refused to convert to Islam following a quarrel, her death sentence was announced in November 2010. The Lahore High Court on Oct. 16, 2014 upheld the death sentence for the mother of two children and stepmother to three others.
Noreen, 50, was convicted under Section 295-C of the defamation statutes for alleged derogatory comments about Muhammad, which is punishable by death.
The Supreme Court judges today said they would fix a date in due course to review the substance of the appeal.
Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa, lawyer for the complainant against Noreen, opposed the petition on grounds that it had been filed too late. But Justice Saqib Nisar, head of the three-judge bench, said the court would hear the case.
Malook, who is representing Noreen before the high court, said her chances for acquittal were good.
“I believe that Asia Bibi’s case was not handled properly, but even now she has a good chance of being freed from her ordeal on the basis of inadmissible evidence,” Malook said. “We have a good case, and I’m sure the Supreme Court will consider the shoddy trial Asia Bibi has been subjected to and deliver justice to her.”