The Supreme Court of Pakistan today (13th October) adjourned the hearing of Aasia Bibi’s final appeal for an indefinite period after a judge in the case stepped down.

She has been detained since 2009 after she was accused of uttering derogatory remarks against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Aasia was sentenced to death in 2010 by the lower court, a decision which was upheld by the Lahore Court and then challenged in the Supreme Court.

Her lawyer had submitted an application for an early hearing, which was granted, and a date was set for today. But Justice Mian Saqib Nisar – heading the three judge bench set for this appeal – adjourned the case for indefinite period when Justice Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman recused himself from the case stating that “I have been involved in the earlier blasphemy case of Salmaan Taseer, which was related to it so I cannot hear this case”.  Meanwhile a letter has been written to the Chief Justice asking him to appoint another judge to hear this case.

CLAAS-PK national director Joseph Francis was present in the court and according to him security was very tight and thousands of security troops had been deployed in capital, Islamabad. Hundreds were deployed outside the court as several clergy groups demanded Aasia’s execution arguing that a person charged with blasphemy deserves death and nothing less. Aasia Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Malluck, have already claimed on several occasions that he has been receiving death threats. Also present in court was Aasia’s husband Ashiq Maish, and some Christians were also there to support him.

Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, lawyer for the complainant against Aasia Bibi, was also present in court with dozens of clerics and Muslim supporters.

Nasir Saeed Director CLAAS-UK said that although the hearing has been adjourned he is still very hopeful that at the next hearing the charges against Aasia will be dropped and she will be freed by the supreme court.

He added: “But I am also scared that there can be tremendous repercussions for the Christians whether her conviction is overturned or upheld. If her conviction is upheld, then she can appeal to the president of Pakistan.

“Undoubtedly pressure will be further built by Islamists groups and if God forbid, her appeal is rejected by the president of Pakistan then she will become the first person to be executed for blasphemy in Pakistan.  Also if charges are dropped and she is freed, there will be huge protests in Pakistan by the Islamists and Christians’ properties and lives will be at risk.”

He concluded: “It is very important that the government takes this matter seriously and takes security measures before the appeal hearing, not just in the Islamabad but throughout the country and particularly in Punjab.” well as shelter and financial support for the victims and their families.