Pakistan ups security as Bibi blasphemy case goes to court


Pakistan deployed hundreds of security forces in the capital Islamabad Thursday as the Supreme Court readied to hear a final appeal in the country’s most notorious blasphemy case.

Lawyers for Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who has been on death row since 2010, will seek to have her death sentence overturned, with observers warning of “tremendous” repercussions for minorities in deeply conservative Muslim Pakistan.

Up to 100 police, many in riot gear, were deployed outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad as Bibi’s lawyer and husband arrived, an AFP reporter said, with more deployed throughout the city.

“Security is very tight in Islamabad all around today. Additional troops have been deployed on checkpoints and city junctions in general. There is also deployment of paramilitary force Rangers and FC (Frontier Corps) on some additional points,” a police source told AFP.

“I have made my preparation, we are very hopeful,” Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook told AFP.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Muslim-majority Pakistan. Anyone even accused of insulting Islam risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

Rights groups complain the controversial legislation is often abused to carry out personal vendettas, mainly against minority Christians.

Bibi was convicted and sentenced to hang in 2010 after an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water. Her supporters maintain her innocence and insist it was a personal dispute.

But successive appeals have been rejected, and if on Thursday the three-judge Supreme Court bench upholds Bibi’s 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. The repercussions for minorities, human rights and the blasphemy laws will be “tremendous” if that happens, says Shahzad Akbar, a human rights lawyer.

Observers have warned of possible violence if the conviction is overturned, with some calling the case a battle for Pakistan’s soul as the state walks a line between upholding human rights and appeasing hardliners.

© 2016 AFP

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