By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
LAHORE, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– The fate of a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy remained unclear Wednesday, March 19, after a high court postponed an appeals hearing.
Asia Bibi was to appear Monday, March 17, in front of the Lahore High Court in Pakistan’s Punjab province, but the case was adjourned when one of the two judges failed to appear, trial observers said.
No new date for the appeal hearing was immediately announced.
Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five, has been in detention since 2009 after she reportedly told Muslim co-workers that Jesus Christ is alive. She made the remarks while working in the fields for a Muslim landowner, according to investigators.
“Our Christ sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins…Our Christ is alive,” she reportedly said. Bibi spoke amid a dispute with non-Christian colleagues when she attempted to drink water from a well owned by Muslim.
Besides “insulting Prophet Muhammad” she was accused “of contaminating” the well by Muslims.
She was charged with blasphemy and a lower court eventually sentenced her to death by hanging. Her supporters had hoped that she would finally be able to defend herself in a case that has raised international concerns over Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws.
Under the legislation, whoever “defiles the sacred name” of Prophet Muhammad, faces punishment with death or life imprisonment and fines.
Bibi has been waiting for her appeal to be heard while being held in isolation at the women’s prison in the Sheikhupura area of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
It came as a setback for the Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which supporter her case.
CLAAS Pakistan Director Joseph Francis said earlier he was “hopeful” that she may be released “if there is no pressure on the judges by the extremists and the case is handled with care, consideration, and due diligence.”
Muslim militants have made clear they want her to remain in prison.
Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, and the former governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, were both killed in separate incidents in 2011, after openly condemning the controversial blasphemy legislation and expressing support for Bibi.
Besides Bibi, several other Christians have been detained on blasphemy charges and rights groups say successive Pakistani governments have failed to protect minority rights.