LAHORE - The Supreme Court on Wednesday suspended the death sentence awarded to Christian woman Asia Bibi in a blasphemy case till the final decision of her appeal.

A three-member bench, headed by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry and Justice Umar Ata Bandial, passed the order while hearing Asia Bibi’s case at the Supreme Court Lahore Registry.

The bench observed that the court would examine the record of the case for administration of justice. The court also observed that the appeal was filed 11 days after the lapse of the stipulated time. Counsel for Asia, Advocate Saiful Mulook, told the bench that the petition was filed within the stipulated time, but the SC registrar office doubted the certified copy of the judgment of the LHC, due to which he had to manage another copy; and this caused some delay.

The bench gave time to the counsel, directing him to show the copy which the registrar office had rejected. The bench observed that the objection of delay would be taken up at the time of regular hearing of the appeal and adjourned the proceedings for indefinite time.

However, the bench stayed the operation of the death sentence awarded to Asia in the blasphemy case.

Later, talking to media persons, Advocate Saiful Mulook said he was hopeful that his client would be acquitted of the charges of blasphemy. He said week points in prosecution and trial of the case would favour the convict.

On October 16, 2014, the Lahore High Court (LHC) dismissed the appeal of Asia Bibi and upheld the decision of the trial court. She has been on death row since Nov 2010 after she was found guilty of passing derogatory remarks about Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) during arguments with a Muslim woman in 2009.

Reuters adds: The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily suspended the death sentence of Asia Bibi in a case that hit global headlines after the murder of two politicians who tried to intervene on her behalf.

Asia Bibi, a farm worker and mother of four, became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law in 2010.

The Supreme Court will soon begin hearing an appeal against her conviction, said lawyer Saiful Mulook. “The execution of Asia Bibi has been suspended and will remain suspended until the decision of this appeal,” Mulook said.

The prosecution lawyer was not available for comment. The law in predominantly Muslim Pakistan does not define blasphemy, but stipulates that the penalty is death. While convictions for blasphemy are fairly common, with most cases involving members of religious minorities, a death sentence that has never been carried out.

But several people have been killed by angry mobs after being accused of blasphemy. Human rights activists say accusations of blasphemy are sky rocketing because the law is often abused to settle grudges and seize money or property.

Attacks on those, including two politicians, who tried to intervene on behalf of Bibi, questioned the blasphemy law and called for reforms, have stifled debate. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by a bodyguard in 2011 after he had sought a presidential pardon for Bibi. The judge who later sentenced Taseer’s killer had to flee the country.

Islamist militants claimed responsibility for the murder of the then sole Christian minister in 2011 for challenging the blasphemy law. The case against Bibi was registered after two sisters accused her of making derogatory remarks about Islam.

Asia’s lawyers say her neighbours had a grudge against Bibi because of an earlier dispute. Mulook said key witnesses had not appeared during hearings by the high court.

“The real eyewitnesses never appeared before the court and backed out,” he said. Evidence in blasphemy trials often cannot be reproduced in court for fear of committing another offence and judges often refuse to hear cases because they fear being attacked. Lawyers who hear blasphemy cases are frequently threatened. A prominent human rights advocate, defending a professor accused of making a blasphemous Facebook post, was murdered last year.