Court stays pardon of Pakistani woman sentenced to death

November 29th, 2010 - 5:20 pm ICT by IANS  

By Awais Saleem
Islamabad, Nov 29 (IANS) The Lahore High Court Monday restrained Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari from granting pardon to Christian woman Aasia Bibi, who was sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy.

Aasia had earlier filed an appeal against her death sentence in the Lahore High Court, besides submitting a mercy petition to the president for pardon. She has claimed innocence and pleaded that she was falsely implicated in the case because of a local enmity.

The woman was given the death sentence by an additional sessions judge in Nankana Sahib district a week ago on charges of committing blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code.

A religious leader of the local mosque, Qari Saleem, had lodged an FIR against Aasia Bibi for allegedly passing derogatory remarks against the last prophet of Muslims.

Salman Tasseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab state, had met Aasia in Sheikhupura prison and had assured her of a sympathetic response on her mercy petition.

“The president has principally agreed to grant pardon to Aasia Bibi after completing the requisite formalities,” he had said.

“Charges against Aasia Bibi were fabricated. I am taking her mercy petition to the president, and remain hopeful that she’ll be granted pardon,” Taseer had said after meeting the woman.

“The president has the constitutional authority to overturn death sentences and grant pardon to the accused. We want an enlightened Pakistan where minorities can live without fear,” he said.

Aasia’s case has drawn huge attention from local and international NGOs. The Amnesty International has also appealed for her release. However, her possible release was challenged in the high court a couple of days ago and the hearing took place Monday.

Aasia, a mother of four, said she belonged to a poor family and did not know why she was being targeted in this case. “Although I am a Christian, I can never think of offending the sentiments of any Muslim.”

Khwaja Muhammad Sharif, chief justice of the Lahore High Court, said as the case was under trial, the question of pardon was “premature”. He has also sought a reply from the federal government and the Punjab governor on the next date of hearing Dec 6.

Asma Jahangir, human rights activist and chairperson of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), criticised the court’s restraining order.

“The president is yet to grant pardon. So there was no need for such an order,” she said, adding that “the court should not take such populist stance”.

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