By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Pakistan’s Supreme Court is set to announce its decision on what media described as the final appeal of a Christian woman who has been on death row since 2010 on a blasphemy conviction.
Saiful Malook, a lawyer for Asia Bibi, said a three-judge bench will announce its verdict on October 31, and that he was “hopeful for Bibi’s acquittal.”
Security has been beefed up in the capital, Islamabad, ahead of the announcement, and the Interior Ministry said mobile-phone services will be suspended in major cities.
At a hearing on October 8, the Supreme Court judges listened to Malook challenging statements by those who accused her of making derogatory remarks about Islam.
In 2010, she was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws in a case that has generated global headlines and indignation.
Bibi, a mother of four, denies the charges.
Radical Islamists have rallied against the woman and threatened to kill her if she were released.
A hard-line Pakistani Islamist party, Tehrik-e Labaik, earlier this month warned of “terrible consequences” if she is granted leniency in her appeal.
While Pakistan’s laws carry the death penalty for blasphemy and offenders have been sentenced to death, no convict has ever been executed so far.
People charged with blasphemy but later freed have had to flee the country for their safety.
Lawyers, judges, and those seeking to reform the blasphemy laws have also been threatened, attacked, or even killed.
At least 1,472 people were charged under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2016, according to the Lahore-based Center for Social Justice.
It said Muslims constituted a majority of those prosecuted, followed by members of the Ahmadi, Christian, and Hindu minorities.
Rights groups say the laws are increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.