Asia Bibi's lawyer blames Pakistani government for failure

ReutersAsia Bibi was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, a charge she denies.

The Pakistani government has failed to uphold numerous legal requirements in the case against Asia Bibi, her lawyer has said.

Sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, Bibi has lived on death row ever since. She denies charges levelled at her by former colleagues that she insulted the Prophet Muhammad, and last month hopes were raised that she may walk free after the Supreme Court of Pakistan temporarily suspended her execution.

Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, took over her case in October 2014. He claims that Pakistani officials have been influenced by religious hardliners who want Bibi, a Christian, to be killed for her alleged crime.

"The authorities must put aside religious sentiments and verify the facts, first. However, they are subject to the influence of religious fundamentalists and do not stop the militants from attacking those accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad, or setting fire to their homes," he told Asia News.

"Blasphemy is within the hudud (crimes against God), but none of the judges asked if the State in person or an authorized officer have filed a complaint of blasphemy against Asia. Sharia (Islamic law) says that the accused must confess their crime and all testimonies verified before the trial. All these requirements have been ignored".

Malook is a Muslim, and has been targeted by religious fundamentalists for working on behalf of Bibi. Two prominent politicians, governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer and Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, were assassinated in 2011 after defending Bibi. Malook said that he has had to be very careful in order to avoid the same fate.

"I have asked reporters not to take pictures. I am the father of three daughters. Special security agencies have taught me how to avoid threats when handling similar cases," he said.

"People, even judges, say I am crazy to have taken over this case. They say I am the enemy of my daughters, handshakes became rarer. I was a proud Vice President of the High Court, but now my acquaintances shake their heads. Religious parties hold grudges against me. "

Malook insists that the charges against Asia Bibi are entirely false. Human rights groups say Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws are frequently misused by extremists, and false charges brought against Christians in order to settle personal scores or to seize property or businesses. Bibi is the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in the country, however.

According to the BBC, Pakistan has the largest number of death row inmates in the world, with more than 8,000 people currently awaiting execution. This morning, Sharqat Hussain – convicted of killing a child in 2004 – was hanged, despite international calls for his release. His lawyers say he was tortured into confessing the murder when he was just 14.

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