By BosNewsLife Asia Service with additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A Pakistani court will hear the appeal of a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam after the hearing was postponed twice, Catholic sources told BosNewsLife Monday, March 24.
Asia Bibi was to appear Wednesday, March 26, in front of the Lahore High Court in Pakistan’s Punjab province, said Agenzia Fides, the news agency of the Vatican.
The case was adjourned again last week when one of the two judges failed to appear, trial observerstold BosNewsLife earlier.
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 a Muslim.
Besides “insulting Prophet Muhammad” she was accused “of contaminating” the well by Muslims. Bibi 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.
The working group of the European Parliament on freedom of religion said in published
remarks that it welcomes the decision of the Lahore High Court “to initiate the process of appeal” for Asia Bibi.
“We trust that the judges appointed are present for the third hearing,” the working group said, addingthat those involved in the case should “show courage and not give in to any pressure or external threat,” a reference to Islamic militants.
Two politicians, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, Salman Taseer, and Christian federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 for criticizing the country’s blasphemy legislation.
The working group said in a statement, distributed by Fides, that it had urged Pakistan;s government to safeguard the independence and effective functioning of the High Court of Lahore.
“In addition, we urge the Pakistani authorities to provide adequate protection to all
persons involved in the case” especially after a verdict, the European legislators added.
Her case has underscored concerns over controversial blasphemy legislation. Under the laws, whoever “defiles the sacred name” of Prophet Muhammad, faces punishment with death or life imprisonment and fines.
Several other Christians have also been detained on blasphemy charges, including Savan Masih, 27, who was arrested in March 2013 after allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.
His hearing was to take place Monday, March 24, after was postponed due to an unrelated lawyers strike, said the Center for Legal Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which is involved in the case.
News of the alleged blasphemy sparked one of Pakistan’s worst riots last year, when as many as 3,000 Muslims rampaged through the city of Lahore’s Joseph Colony, a heavily Christian area, to search for Masih.
Some 180 Christian-owned homes, shops and two churches were destroyed in the violence, according to witnesses and Christian lawyers have protested against the release on bail of dozens of suspects who were believed to have been involved in the riots.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
Please help BosNewsLife to be the voice of the voiceless. Click here for a subscription.
Follow BosNewsLife via Twitter