Saturday, October 6, 2018
The Supreme Court of Pakistan examines the appeal of the lawyers of the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. She prays in prison and asks for the Pope's closeness.
The decisive day for the life or death of Asia Bibi has come. On Monday, October 8, 2018, at 1:00 p.m. local time, the Supreme Court of Pakistan examines the appeal, which has reached the third and final level of judgment, filed by the lawyers of the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy and in prison for almost a decade.
It will be a quick trial: according to Pakistan's criminal procedure, at this point everything will take place in a single hearing, where the judges will listen to the positions of the defense and the public prosecution and consider whether to confirm or overrule the death penalty sentence. The decision should be taken on the same day while for its publication we will have to wait two or three more days.
"Within a week, then, Asia could be free. Let's hope and pray," notes Joseph Nadeem, guardian of the woman's family, and president of the Renaissance Education Foundation which from Lahore covers the legal costs of the trial and takes care of Asia’s family.
As confirmed by the document issued by the Chancellery of the Supreme Court of Islamabad and reviewed by Vatican Insider, a special panel of judges, created for the occasion, are to listen to the arguments of the Muslim lawyer Saiful Malook, lawyer of Asia Bibi, and to decide on the fate of the woman.
According to Nadeem, the hopes are well-founded. The college, composed of three senior magistrates - as anticipated by Vatican Insider last July - is chaired by the President of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Mian Saqib Nisar who, as a guarantee of impartiality and transparency, has taken upon himself the case of Asia Bibi, to avoid any risk of political and religious exploitation.
The declared aim - in an approach that has always been shared by the lawyers of the Christian woman - is, in fact, to handle the trial as a normal case of a legal order, stripping it of any symbolic or religious value. This will allow us to examine with serenity and rigor the evidence and the arguments presented by the lawyers and to issue a verdict that is only the result of the conviction gained in the trial, generated by factual elements.
Both in the first and in the second degree, in fact, the judicial case that brought the Christian peasant girl of Punjab into prison was heavily conditioned by external elements that completely distorted the case.
The trial before the court of Nakhana Shahib, who in November 2010 decreed the first death sentence, was evidently spoiled by false accusations, artfully built to punish the woman who had dared to rebel against a discrimination of which she had been victim, perpetrated by her agricultural work companions in the fields. Some women had accused her of having contaminated, as a Christian, the source of water from which everyone was drinking.
Faced with Asia’s offended reaction - an unforgivable affront -the women had gone looking for the local imam’s support, who plotted the plan to charge Bibi for blasphemy: an easy shortcut used to get rid of opponents in private quarrels. The imam filed a complaint and testified in court about an event in which he was in no way involved in person, claiming that Asia had offended the name of the prophet Mohammed.
It would have been easy, at that point, for the judges to expose the conspiracy, since the imam had never heard the words of Asia and his testimony was clearly false. But the court chose the most convenient way and, in order not to upset the local Muslim groups, preferred to plead Asia guilty.
Asia's life changed from that day and, as innocent woman was sentenced to death under Article 295, Paragraph C of the Penal Code of Pakistan, or for the crime of blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad. Her case went public and Christians in Pakistan began a campaign in her defense, which culminated with Benedict XVI’s public appeal for her release.
Meanwhile, an appeal was filed before the High Court of Lahore, the capital of Punjab, against that unjust sentence, but the case of Asia Bibi was already "hot" and a few months later, in that fateful 2011, was forever linked to two murders of high-ranking people, who had publicly sided in her favor: to lose their lives to the terrorist hand were first the Muslim Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and then the Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for religious minorities.
At that point no magistrate wanted to take responsibility for judging Asia Bibi and a series of postponements, for various reasons, marked the trial in Lahore, while her detention time was significantly extended as the woman was transferred from Sheikhupura prison to the women's prison in Multan, to ensure greater security.
We have to wait until October 2014 for a judge to agree to rule on the case of Asia but, while rumors of threats to the magistrates were spreading, the High Court confirmed the judgment of first instance, considering credible the testimonies presented against the woman. However, the sentence was suspended, pending the ruling of the third and final instance, the Supreme Court.
"We are working hard and will bring convincing arguments. We trust in respect for the rule of law and in the impartiality of the judges. We are confident about the outcome of the trial," notes lawyer Saiful Malook who will attend – escorted - the hearing on October 8 in Islamabad.
Meanwhile, just a few days ago, Joseph Nadeem and Asia's husband, Ashiq Masih, visited her in prison, finding her "strong in body and spirit", as they reported. "Asia is a woman of deep faith and lives this time immersed in prayer, with great spiritual serenity. She knows she is a beloved daughter of God and trusts in the Lord, who will be able to give her salvation," Nadeem observes. "At this decisive moment in her life, she asks for the prayer of all the Christians in the world and the special prayer of Pope Francis, who has already sent her a blessing and a Rosary, which Asia uses every day, animated by feelings of forgiveness towards her persecutors," she concludes.
In the event the Supreme Court were to confirm her condemnation, Asia Bibi's last chance would be to ask for a measure of clemency from the President of Pakistan.