Pakistan delays decision on whether Christian woman will face death penalty for blasphemy against Islam

The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday delayed its ruling concerning the final appeal of a Christian woman who’s been facing the death penalty since 2010 for blasphemy against Islam.

The three-judge panel listened to Asia Bibi’s lawyer challenging accusations that she insulted Islam’s prophet, a crime punishable by death.

Mian Saqib Nisar, the country's top judge, didn’t say when the ruling will be announced nor why they reserved their judgment. He ordered people present in the court to remain tight-lipped on the case.

Bibi was first accused of insulting Islam’s prophet back in 2009 when she tried to get water for herself and her fellow farmworkers. But two Muslim women refused to take a drink from a container used by a Christian.

A mob then accused Bibi a few days later of blasphemy, which led to her conviction and was subsequently sentenced to death.

FILE 2010: Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, listens to officials at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore.

FILE 2010: Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, listens to officials at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore. (AP )

Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, claims there are contradictions in statements by the witnesses that taint the evidence on which Bibi was convicted. The prosecution’s case also centered on strict religious texts that harshly punish the blasphemers.

Still, the lawyer told the Associated Press that he remains optimistic and could win the appeal for the accused woman. “I am a 100 percent sure she will be acquitted,” he said. “She has a very good case.”

Bibi’s case caused outrage across the world, yet it also energized Pakistan’s radical Islamists who use the blasphemy law to exercise their political power in the country.

“I have lost my health. I am a high blood pressure patient, my privacy is totally lost. You have to be in hiding,” her lawyer said, noting that everyone knows his identity. “They look at this house and they know this is the home of a person who can be killed at any time by angry mullahs.”

Religious minorities in Pakistan are mostly on the receiving end of the law, prompting their campaigning to repeal the law. Such campaigns, in return, invited attacks on their communities.

Joseph Francis, an activist for Pakistan's Christians, said his group is helping 120 Christians currently facing blasphemy charges. “This law is misused and it is not only misused against Christians but also against Muslims,” he said.

Bibi’s husband recently traveled to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis, while France, Spain and Germany offered her an asylum if she’s acquitted.

But the leader of a radical Islamist party, Khadim Hussein Rizvi, warned Bibi that “no blasphemer will be able to escape punishment.”

Between 1987 and 2016 nearly 1,500 people were charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, according to the Center for Social Justice, a group based in Lahore. Nearly half of the cases involve Muslims and 501 were Ahmadis – a Muslim sect condemned by mainstream Islam. Over 200 cases involve Christians and Hindus.

Despite the violation of the blasphemy law carries the death penalty for the offender, no one has ever been executed by the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.