PAKISTAN: No quick pardon for Asia Bibi

Asia BibiInternational outrage has been sparked by the death sentence for blasphemy imposed last month on Christian woman Asia Bibi (45), and Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for her release.

Asia is a victim of the controversial Blasphemy Law that is often misused to settle personal scores and persecute minorities. She was accused of blasphemy in June 2009 and has been in prison ever since. The death penalty was passed on 8 November 2010, and since then demonstrations have been staged in Pakistan, by Christians calling for her release and by Muslims warning against a pardon and defending the Blasphemy Law.

Asia’s lawyer has filed an appeal with the Lahore High Court. There were hopes of a presidential pardon, but President Asif Ali Zardari has decided to let the appeal process play out instead, according to Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who met President Zardari on Thursday 25 November. Mr Bhatti, a Christian, is strongly opposed to the Blasphemy Law.

Pardoning Asia would carry political risk for President Zardari, whose coalition government relies on an Islamic political party. However, he agreed to a pardon if the appeal case is unduly delayed. Mr Bhatti said that President Zardari did not specify any deadline but said that he believes the president “will not wait months or weeks”.

Minister Bhatti has regularly spoken out against the blasphemy laws, and he has long been leading negotiations with other state officials to agree possible amendments to the legislation. “Tabling a proposal for amendment is not the difficult part, it is gathering enough support that requires most effort,” Minister Bhatti told Christian Solidarity Worldwide on Monday. (Assist News Service, CSW, epakistannews, Pakistan Dawn)

You can view a CNN report from Pakistan which features interviews with Asia’s family and also with the Muslim cleric who brought the case against Asia.

Church in Chains continues to dialogue with the Embassy of Pakistan about the case. The Embassy responded to an appeal from Church in Chains by stating that the Government of Pakistan expresses solidarity with members of the minority communities. In reply, Church in Chains welcomed this solidarity and expressed the hope that there would shortly be positive news in the case.