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Monday, November 29, 2010

Asia Bibi Awaits Pardon After Death Sentence For Blasphemy Of Islam

CNN Christian Asia Bibi faces death (blasphemy, 5:51)
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Christian Woman Faces Death For Blasphemy

In early November, in the dusty city of Sheikhupura in Pakistan’s heartland, Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman and mother of five, was sentenced to death by hanging under the country’s blasphemy laws.

Her crime? She allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

Almost immediately, the death sentence unleashed international condemnation, and put pressure on Pakistan’s government to overturn the verdict and amend the country’s blasphemy laws – a holdover from a 19th century penal code designed to protect minority religious sects during British colonial times.

The law was radicalized during the 1980’s under the military dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq. He imposed life sentences, even death, for blasphemy to appease the mullahs and legitimize his grip on power.

Pope Benedict XVI appealed for Clemency but hard-line Islamic groups have threatened civil war if the government pardons Bibi or attempts to amend the law.

Bibi’s husband, 48-year-old Ashiq Masih, is desperate, convinced radical Islamic groups are aiming to kill the family. He has gone into hiding, along with his children, sheltered inside a Christian colony in an outlying district of Sheikhupura. Masih insists his wife was framed, a victim of old score-settling in their village of Ittan Walli, where his family was just one of two Christian families.

Bibi’s lawyer has filed an appeal with the High Court in Lahore and Pakistan’s President Asif Zardari may consider an unconditional Pardon if the appeals process takes too long.

So far, the Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti submitted a report on the case to Zardari. He concluded that the charges were baseless. In an interview with NBC News, he said that Bibi could be released on appeal in the high court. “We should wait for the court proceedings but if the court delays then the president may pardon her on the basis that she is innocent,” he said.

Bhatti is well aware of the possible consequences of an acquittal. Judges have been assassinated for freeing victims and several accused persons have been gunned down inside prisons or outside courtrooms as they walked free.

“We will protect Asia and her entire family,” the minister said. “No harm will come to them.”

Sidra, Bibi’s 18-year-old daughter, takes her younger sisters to the jail every Tuesday to visit their mother. “My mother tells us not to cry and to be strong,” she said. “But now, my mother is crying, so how can we be strong.”

With media reports of a possible pardon for Bibi, hard line Islamic groups have held demonstrations in cities across Pakistan. They’ve warned Zardari of a severe backlash if he commutes her death sentence.

At one rally, organized by “The Movement for the Protection of the Prophet’s Honor” denounced any attempt to change the law. “We are ready to sacrifice our life for the prophet,” they chanted.

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Sources: CNN, Daily Motion, MSNBC, Youtube Google Maps

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