Muslim religious leaders in Pakistan are urging President Asif Ali Zardari not to pardon Asia Bibi, the 45-year-old Christian mother of five whose death sentence on blasphemy charges has provoked an international outcry. Shahbaz Bhatti, the nation’s minister for minorities, has found that Bibi was wrongfully convicted, and Punjab Governor Salman Taseer has told CNN that the president will pardon her.
“I mean, he’s a liberal, modern-minded president, and he’s not going to see a poor woman like this targeted and executed,” said Taseer. “It’s just not going to happen.”
Bibi told Taseer, who visited her on November 20, that her accusers had raped her.
Islamist leaders are reportedly planning protests throughout the nation if Bibi is pardoned, and one Islamist organization has announced a November 24 protest against Taseer for his support of Bibi. Attorneys in the district where Bibi is jailed are boycotting the courts to protest a possible pardon, and opponents of the release have gathered outside the jail. Islamic fundamentalist groups are threatening to kill her if she is freed, the Fides news agency reports.
Bibi, a resident of Ittanwali in the eastern province of Punjab, was working at a local farm when the Muslim women with whom she was working called her an infidel and urged her to convert to Islam. Bibi refused, saying that Christianity was the only true religion.
“The Muslim men working in nearby fields also gathered and attacked Asia Bibi on which she fled to village in her home,” the Pakistan Christian Post reported. “The angry Muslims followed her and took her out of home and started beating her. They tortured her children also, but meanwhile someone informed police.”
Police then arrested Bibi on blasphemy charges. Following a lengthy trial, she was sentenced to death.
Bhatti, a Christian, said that Pakistan may amend its controversial anti-blasphemy law but will not repeal it-- prompting the leader of the Pakistan Christian Congress to call for his resignation.