The future of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death in 2010 on accusations of blasphemy, appears to be uncertain after a senior judge who was to preside over her appeal suddenly resigned, says a Pakistani Christian group, highlighting the rise in hatred against Christians.
Weeks after Pakistan's Supreme Court adjourned the hearing of Bibi's final appeal against her execution due to Justice Iqbal Hameed recusing himself from the case earlier this month, the judge has now resigned giving no specific reason, according to local media.
"Mr Hameed did not want to face the outright condemnation that people in the West would have for his sentencing of Asia Bibi to death by hanging," Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, writes on the group's website.
The judge's resignation "illustrates the power of extremists who are the real authority in Pakistan," Chowdhry adds, alluding to demands by Islamist groups for Bibi's execution.
To abstain from Bibi's hearing earlier this month, Justice Hameed told the court, "I was a part of the bench that was hearing the case of Salmaan Taseer, and this case is related to that."
Taseer was a Pakistani businessman and politician who served as the governor of the province of Punjab until his assassination by his own bodyguard after he publicly criticized the country's blasphemy laws referring to Bibi's case.
"Every day that passes I fear that she will either be killed in custody and that her death will be masked as a natural death, or that she will finally fail her Supreme Court hearing - as this would be the most popular decision in a country riven with hate," Chowdhry writes. "Sadly that position is even held by much of the Judiciary (officials) who have also been blinded by the hate agenda promulgated through media and the education system in Pakistan."
Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 on allegations of blasphemy after two co-workers accused her of insulting the Muslim prophet Muhammad. In July, Pakistan's Supreme Court set a date in October for the 51-year-old Asia Bibi's final appeal hearing to determine whether she will be executed or not.
One day in June 2009, she was picking berries with a group of Muslim women in the town of Sheikhupura in the Punjab province. The women got upset that she drank from the same water bowl as them. An argument ensued, and the women went to police and accused her of saying something along the lines of "My Christ died for me, what did Muhammad do for you?" She was promptly arrested.
There are daily protests across the country by group after group seeking implementation of Bibi's death sentence, Chowdhry writes.
"I believe Asia Bibi's only real hope for freedom lies with a presidential pardon. Never before has this constitutional power been utilized and it will take great bravery for President Mamnoon Hussain to make the right decision. That said the more international pressure that can be placed on the Government of Pakistan the more likely Asia will be set free," he concludes.