The case of Asia Bibi is immensely significant for people on all sides of the spectrum; those standing with her and demanding her release know that upholding her death sentence would make her the first person in Pakistan to be executed for blasphemy, which would take the country in a dark direction, and irrevocably set this tone for future cases. Those that want her punished for her perceived crimes are doing so vociferously, which means that any decision that is not to their liking could result in severe backlash.

In this instance, disseminating justice to Asia Bibi would not have been too hard; what would have come after was enough to give even Supreme Court Judges a pause. There are too many discrepancies in Asia Bibi’s case, which were left unaddressed in both the Sessions Court and the Lahore High Court. Her version of having an unrelated quarrel with her female accusers was never entertained, her accusers were never vetted and their credibility never questioned (tazkia-tul-shahood). The last is necessary by law to grant the capital punishment in certain cases. Neither court attempted to address which of three alleged statements made by Asia Bibi was actually blasphemous either and none present on the benches even addressed the issue of whether she did this intentionally (the Federal Shariat Court explicitly states that the ‘crime’ of blasphemy is an intentional or reckless wrong).

The ‘conflict of interest’ mentioned by the judge that recused himself from the proceedings is not just related to his positions at the time of the Salmaan Taseer case, but to be the judge to take this decision with religious extremists waiting in the wings was maybe too much.

Apart from the obvious threat to the lives of the Judges’ bench deliberating over the discussion, there is much more at stake – the capital was reportedly filled with hardliners that were against her release. The government had deployed extra security in case of any backlash if the verdict went Asia Bibi’s way. Many extremists have openly stated that they would kill her if she were to be released. There are also very real fears of violence committed against minority groups, Christians in particular, as a blowback to her being set free.

Asia Bibi’s case is so much more than whether or not she is exonerated. This is the landmark case for blasphemy, the Pakistani state has openly shunned extremism time and again, but at this point it’s more about words than deeds. The state has consistently bowed down to pressure from the religious Right, has failed to actively close down on groups that promote sectarian hatred and are against minority groups. Would this be an occasion where the Pakistani state falters? The Supreme Court must remember that the eyes of the whole world are on this case, Pakistan’s fight against militancy will also be severely undermined if the Apex court of the country bows down to pressure from the hardliners, and does not grant Asia Bibi (delayed) justice after seven long years.