Pakistan

Supreme Court delays Bibi blasphemy appeal after judge steps down

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ISLAMABAD: Supreme Court of Pakistan delayed an appeal into the country’s most notorious blasphemy case on Thursday, against Asia Bibi, a Christian mother on death row since 2010 after one of the judges stepped down.

Thousands of security troops had been deployed in the capital as the court readied to hear a final appeal in the case of Asia Bibi.

However, the threat of violence was largely abated when one of the three-judge bench, Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman, told the court he had to rescue himself from the case.

“I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that,” he told the court.

Taseer, a former governor of the province of Punjab, was gunned down in Islamabad in 2011 after speaking out for Bibi.

His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged earlier in 2016 in a step liberals hailed as progressive, but which brought hardliners into the streets calling for Bibi’s death.

The court did not immediately set a new date for the appeal.

A senior police official said that up to 3,000 forces had been deployed over the capital.

“Security is very tight in Islamabad all around today. Additional troops have been deployed on checkpoints and city junctions in general. There is also deployment of paramilitary force Rangers and FC (Frontier Corps) on some additional points,” a second police source said.

Up to 100 officers, many in riot gear, had been stationed outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad on Thursday as Bibi’s lawyer and husband arrived for the hearing, with more throughout the city.

“I have made my preparation, we are very hopeful,” Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook said earlier.

Blasphemy is a sensitive issue in Pakistan. Rights groups complain the controversial legislation is often abused to carry out personal vendettas, mainly against minorities.

Bibi was convicted and sentenced to hang in 2010 after a reported argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water. Her supporters maintain her innocence and insist it was a personal dispute.

Nevertheless, successive appeals have been rejected, and if the Supreme Court bench upholds Bibi’s conviction, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency.

She would become the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy. The repercussions for minorities, human rights and the blasphemy laws will be ‘tremendous’ if that happens, says Shahzad Akbar, a human rights lawyer.

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