11/26/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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No immediate pardon for Asia Bibi. Appeal must go before the High Court

by Jibran Khan
President Zardari could decide to grant the pardon if the High Court appeal takes too long. Islamic groups opposed to pardon demand the case follows the normal course of justice.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - The President of Pakistan will not grant an immediate pardon to the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, but might do so if the appeal lodged at the High Court takes too long, an official said. The case has aroused a strong reaction from international human rights groups, and has inflamed the religious sentiments in the country. In recent days, demonstrations were staged by the Christian minority in Pakistan, calling for her release, and also by Muslims protesting against the idea of pardon and defending the blasphemy laws. The law is used to settle personal quarrels, and to persecute minorities, critics say.

Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, former Prime Minister and President of the Pakistan Muslim League Q, told media: "Instead of granting pardon to Asia Bibi, the President should let her rot and the whole nation should back this decision. We should also turn a blind eye to the point being raised by various quarters to inquire whether or not she really committed the crime she allegedly committed. Her crime is unpardonable and would hurt the nation's sentiments. We are ready to sacrifice our life for the Prophet Muhammad and any one who dares to speak against the Prophet, must be killed".

Rizwan Paul for President "Life for All" commented: " After a through analysis of Asia Bibi`s case many questions arise in one's mind. We see that it all started with two women refusing to accept water from Asia because she was a Christian. Abuses and false accusations followed. Were the women justified in refusing water from Aasia just because she was a Christian?". On the other hand in an unprecedented move, top Deobandi and Barelvi clerics joined hands to warn President Asif Ali Zardari against granting a discretionary pardon to a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, saying that the decision may trigger adverse reaction.“I advise Zardari not to take a hasty decision under foreign pressure,” Qari Hanif Jallundari, who represents the Deobandi school of thought, told AsiaNews by phone from Lahore. “Such a decision will lead to toward repercussions”.

Hanif’s Wafaqul Madaris Al Arabia (WMA) is an umbrella organization which leads more than 12 thousand seminaries across Pakistan, mostly in Punjab, where many people accused of blasphemy have usually lost lives at the hands of religious zealots. An organisation which wields control over Barelvi seminaries has also joined the Deobandis in a bid to change the president’s decision which, they think, he has already taken. The two sects have a long history of sharply differing with each other on almost every issue. Sahibzada Fazl Karim, a representative of Barelvi seminaries, said his organisation would stage demonstrations across the country if someone involved in a “crime like blasphemy is granted pardon. It would be too much if the woman is set free. Death is the only punishment for a person who commits blasphemy”.

At the heart of the dispute is a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by a court in the district of Sheikhupura for blasphemy, a charge vehemently denied by the woman. The ruling of 8 November has re-ignited the debate about whether to revise the law. The "liberals", even though in the minority, believe that the law created by the then military dictator Zia ul Haq in the 80s to please the religious right should be revoked to prevent its misuse. Both Sahibzada and Qari Hanif who say they have a different view. "Our view is clear. Misuse is an insufficient justification for abolishing any law. Many laws are poorly enforced, including the country's constitution, which is the mother of all laws. Does that mean we should abolish them all? ". Hanif Jallundari advised Zardari to let the event follows the regular channels, from the High Court, then the Supreme Court, to the president.

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