Pakistani woman's death-row appeal of blasphemy conviction postponed
A Christian woman on death row in Pakistan for the past six years had her final appeal postponed yesterday after a judge withdrew from the high-profile blasphemy case.
Asia Bibi, a mother-of-five from rural Punjab, must wait to learn if she will be spared the gallows after the country's top court adjourned amid tense scenes and heightened security in Islamabad.
The adjournment came after Justice Iqbal Hamid-ur-Rehman recused himself from the three-judge bench, telling the court that he had already heard the related case of Salman Taseer, a politician assassinated in 2011 for supporting Ms Bibi's cause.
The chief justice must now appoint another judge.
"I was very well prepared and hopeful for the decision, but the case is adjourned and no new date is fixed for the hearing," Asia Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook said.
In a case that has drawn international outrage, Ms Bibi was convicted in 2010 for defaming the Prophet Mohammad during an argument with a group of Muslim women over a bowl of water.
She denies making any blasphemous remarks. She has been on death row ever since. Appeals at lower courts have all failed, before the country's top court temporarily suspended her sentence in July 2015.
If Pakistan's top court does not overturn her sentence, Ms Bibi's final hope is a pardon from Mamnoon Hussain, the president of the country.
If that fails, she will become the first ever person to be hanged under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.
Her case has exposed deep fractures over blasphemy laws in the highly conservative Muslim state.
Yesterday, 3,000 troops were deployed across the capital in anticipation of unrest or violence following a verdict.
Earlier, clerics at Islamabad's Lal Masjid, a mosque, vowed to take to the streets and prevent the Pakistan government from functioning if Ms Bibi were released.
Activists say Pakistan's blasphemy laws are often used to persecute or settle private vendettas against the country's vulnerable Christian minority.