By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– A senior advocacy official remained concern Saturday, April 12, that a Pakistani appeals court will confirm the death sentence of Christian woman Asia Bibi, who has been charged with blasphemy against Islam.
“Given the recent decisions made against people charged under the blasphemy law, it is not looking likely that the judgment against Asia will be favourable,” said Nasir Saeed, a director of the Center for Legal Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which supports the Christian.
She was to appear at the Lahore High Court Monday, April 14, where judges Sardar Tariq Massod and Abdula Sami Khan were to hear final arguments, Saeed told BosNewsLife. It was not immediately clear whether they would make a ruling on that day.
A planned March 17 hearing was adjourned when one of the two judges failed to appear amid concerns over Islamic extremists, trial observers said.
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,” Bibi reportedly said. She spoke amid a dispute with non-Christian colleagues when she attempted to drink water from a well owned by Muslim, Christians said.
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.
Bibi has denied wrongdoing, but rights activists say judges are increasingly under pressure to sentence Christians to death.
On April 4, a Pakistani Christian couple, Shafaqat Emmanuel, a crippled 38-year-old man, and his wife Shagufta Kausar, 42, were found guilty of sending a text message insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
They were sentenced to death just days after Sawan Masih was given the same sentence for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a conversation with a Muslim friend in the city of Lahore’s Joseph Colony area last March.
“It is thought the judges were biased when making their decisions and did so under pressure from Islamic extremists,” CLAAS said in a statement.
Saeed, who leads CLAAS UK, told BosNewsLife that he has urged Christians around the world “to pray for Asia and a positive outcome” for her case. “We are [still] optimistic that justice will prevail and that Asia will be cleared of all charges,” he said.
“However, we need the prayers of the international church and Christian supporters so that the judges can be free of all pressure from Islamic extremists and make a just decision according to the facts, and fearing God.” A favorable ruling for Bibi could prompt angry reactions from Islamists, Christians warned.
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.