Asia Bibi: Pakistan Supreme Court adjourns death row appeal

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A Pakistani Christian woman on death row for blasphemy has had her appeal adjourned after one of the judges refused to hear the case.

The judge cited a possible conflict of interest in the case of Asia Bibi.

Hundreds of riot police had been deployed around the Supreme Court in the capital, Islamabad.

Blasphemy is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan - critics argue laws are frequently misused to settle personal scores, often targeting minorities.

Last year the Supreme Court suspended Asia Bibi's death sentence and gave her leave to appeal.

A new date for the hearing has yet to be set.

Judge Iqbal Hameed ur Rehman, one of three set to hear the appeal, recused himself from the case on Thursday.

"I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that," he told the court, AFP reports.

Mr Taseer was the liberal governor of Punjab province. He was killed by his own bodyguard in Islamabad in 2011 after speaking out for Asia Bibi.

Family in hiding

Asia Bibi was the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws and her case is one of the most controversial.

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image captionAsia Bibi (centre) has been on death row for nearly five years

She was sentenced to hang in 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with Muslim women which began over a cup of water. She denies the charge.

Thousands have protested against her and said they would kill her if she were ever released - including the imam in her own village. Her husband and four daughters live in hiding and say they have received many death threats.

Asia Bibi's death sentence had been confirmed by the High Court in Punjab province in October, although no date was set.

Correspondents said the granting of leave to appeal by the Supreme Court was the first glimmer of hope for her family.

Her lawyers say the trial and subsequent appeal in the Punjab high court were flawed.

Pakistan has never executed anyone for blasphemy but some people accused of the offence have been lynched by crowds. Lawyers, judges and those seeking to reform the blasphemy laws have also been threatened, attacked or even killed.

Since the 1990s, scores of Christians have been convicted for desecrating the Koran or for blasphemy.

While most of them have been sentenced to death by the lower courts, many sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence.

Muslims constitute a majority of those prosecuted, followed by minority Ahmadis.

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