Pakistan row over possible pardon

A possible presidential pardon for a Christian woman accused of blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad sparks anger.

     Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani minister of minority affairs (R) is preparing the report for Zardari on the case [AFP]

    Around 250 Muslims have staged a demonstration in the central Pakistani city of Lahore, warning the president not to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam.

    Aasia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five who has spent a year-and-a-half in jail on charges of insulting  Prophet Muhammad and the Quran, was due to be executed by hanging on November 8.

    The protesters also denounced any attempt to change Pakistan's blasphemy law, which critics say is often misused to prosecute Christians and other minorities.

    "We are ready to sacrifice our life for the Prophet Muhammad," chanted protesters in Lahore.

    Bibi says that she has been falsely accused.

    Under threat

    Bibi's family is in hiding, and her husband said there have been threats on her life if she is released - with calls from the mosque in their village to burn down their home.

    Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, said the family left their village after her arrest, leaving their children without school for more than a year.

    But Mohammad Salim, the local cleric at the mosque who filed the original charge against Bibi, denied the claims and said there have been no threats against the woman or her family.

    The death sentence against Bibi has prompted outrage from human rights groups and a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XVI for her freedom.

    Her lawyer has filed an appeal with a higher court in Lahore, but she could also be pardoned by the president.

    Possible pardon

    Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, has asked for a review of the facts of the case, raising the possibility of a presidential pardon.

    One of the strongest defenders of Bibi has been Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital.

    Wednesday's protest took place in front of the governor's office and the demonstrators railed against him and others calling for Bibi's release.

    "We are here to tell them that we will not let it happen," said Masoodur Rehman, one of the leaders of the group that organised the rally.

    "Only the court should decide her fate."

    Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minority affairs, who is preparing the report for Zardari on the case, said he would deliver his recommendations on Thursday.

    Pakistan's Christians, who make up less than 5 per cent of the Muslim-majority country's 175 million people, are frequently the targets of accusers invoking the blasphemy law.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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