11/23/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Asia Bibi is innocent, minorities minister says in report to President Zardari

Jibran Khan
The report is set to be given today to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who could grant a pardon in the near future. Religious parties threaten street protests around the country if the woman is freed.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti will present Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari with a report on Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy by a court in early November after more than a year in prison. “Innocent” is the conclusion of the minister’s investigation. “I will hopefully submit my report to the president on Wednesday and recommend to him to grant pardon to Asia Bibi,” The Dawn quoted him as saying.

The situation is tense in and around Ferozewala this morning when a private channel broadcast news about the imminent release of the accused Christian woman. People gathered near the district prison in Sheikhupura to find out whether the information was true or not. Prison officials denied the claim, saying that Asia Bibi was still in her cell.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AsiaNews that the president would vet the request for clemency when it arrived.

“Requests for clemency come to the president through appropriate channels. The request will be examined once it is received. For now, I cannot comment on the issue,” he said.

In Nankana, local lawyers have decided to go on strike as a sign of protest against a statement made by Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who said that Asia Bibi was innocent.

The lawyers held a meeting, chaired by District Bar Association President Shahid Bhatti, passing a unanimous resolution in which they warned the government not to release the Christian woman. As far they are concerned, the woman’s trial was free and fair.

After examining the trial and the evidence presented, Pakistan’s minorities minister and the country’s human rights organisations disagree.

By contrast, Pakistan’s religious parties are putting pressure on the president not to grant Bibi a pardon. They have threatened street protests across the country if President Zardari signed the clemency petition.

At present, as the Christian woman’s fate still hangs in the balance, the AsiaNews campaign to free her continues. So far, some 4,500 people have sent an e-mail of support to the address salviamoasiabibi@asianews.it.

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