The Supreme Court Judge, Iqbal Hamid-ur-Rehman, refused to hear the blasphemy appeal of Asia Bibi. Her case adjourned for an indefinite period.

Justice Iqbal Hamid-ur-Rehman, recused after reiterating that he had also heard the case of Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab who had been killed by his guard over allegations of blasphemy.

The Chief justice will now appointment another judge to the bench, with the resumption date of the hearing still unclear.

Asia Bibi had been accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in June 2009.

Speaking to The Nation, Asia Bibi’s husband stated that the hearing was indeed adjourned because one of the judges had already been involved in Mumtaz Qadri’s case. He expressed hope that the next hearing will be held soon. Asked whether he had received any threats after Mumtaz Qadri was hanged, he said that no such thing had occurred.

Pakistan has witnessed cases regarding blasphemy which are exploitative and oppressive. This was the final appeal of Asia Bibi.

In 2010 she was sentenced to death, despite that her case was strongly pleaded by her advocates, who proved her innocence through insisting that the accusers held grudges against her.

The case

Successive appeals have been rejected. The three-judge Supreme Court bench was to decide Bibi's verdict. In case of 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.

“There is no question that what is at stake is the very soul of the state and Pakistan society: does Pakistan respect the rights of the most vulnerable? Does it defend those rights against spurious allegations even where those allegations involved matters that are sacred to most Pakistanis?” Mustafa Qadri, an expert on human rights in South Asia, told AFP recently.

The details

The accusers claimed that back in June 2009, when Asia was labouring in a field, a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with. Asia was asked to fetch water whereby the Muslim objected, stating: 'A non-Muslim is undesirable in the course to touch the water bowl.'

The women proceeded to a local cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), a charge which is punishable by death under legislation. Rights groups have regularly criticised Pakistan's blasphemy law due to its routine abuses to settle personal vendettas.

Implications and repercussions

Shahzad Akbar, human rights lawyer explains: '' In Pakistan blasphemy cases are mostly misused... it would be a huge blow for minorities in Pakistan who already live in fear. The repercussions for minorities, human rights and the blasphemy laws will be tremendous.''

Her husband has already written to President Mamnoon Hussain to seek permission to move her to France, where the Council of Paris unanimously adopted a proposal to award honourary citizenship to Asia Bibi in March.

In 2011, former Punjab governor Taseer, who spoke out in support of Bibi, was gunned down in broad daylight in Islamabad. His assassin Mumtaz Qadri was executed earlier in 2016 in a Supreme Court decision that was hailed by progressives, but brought hardliners into the streets supporting Qadri and demanding Bibi be killed.