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SC reserves verdict on Asia Bibi’s appeal against execution

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its verdict on an appeal of a Christian woman challenging the death sentence awarded to her for blasphemy.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, reserved the verdict after hearing arguments from her counsel.

The chief justice said the delay was “for reasons to be recorded later”, and told media they could not publish comments on the hugely inflammatory case, which has incited violence in the past.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five, has been on death row since 2010, when Pope Benedict XVI joined in international calls for her release.

In 2015 her daughter met with Pope Francis, who as the head of the Catholic Church offered prayers for her mother.

If the top court upholds Bibi’s conviction, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency.

The allegations against Bibi date back to 2009, when she was working in a field and was asked to fetch water. Muslim women she was labouring with allegedly objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

The women went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), a charge so sensitive in the country that anyone even accused of insulting Islam risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

The charge is punishable by a maximum penalty of death under legislation that rights groups say is routinely abused to settle personal vendettas.

But calls for reform have regularly been met with violence and rejected.

Prime Minister Imran Khan launched a wholehearted defence of the laws during his election campaign earlier this year, vowing his party “fully” supports the legislation and “will defend it”.

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