Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s Home Department has not yet received a petition for clemency from Asia Bibi or her family, Jamal Yousaf, the additional secretary home department, told AsiaNews. Without it, President Asif Ali Zardari cannot pardon her. Legal issues may delay the pardon process beyond what first thought.
A Home Department official, requesting anonymity, told AsiaNews that at present Asia Bibi can only appeal against the decision of the trial court at the Lahore High Court (LHC). “In case the LHC rejects her appeal, she can go to the Supreme Court. If the apex court also upholds her death sentence, the accused can then request the president for clemency,” he said.
According to Article 45 of the Constitution of Pakistan, the president has the power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, as well as remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.
The Home Department official added that the Punjab government had observed—in its reply to the federal government’s proposal to abolish the death penalty—that the power of the president to grant pardon only extends to Tazir ( Islamic Law) punishments. Thus, a sentence under a Tazir is imposed on the state’s command and not as a right of the individual under Allah’s law, it said.
“The president can grant pardon to a person who has committed any offense against the state,” said Muhammad Safdar Shaheen Pirzada, a legal adviser to the President`s Office. However, the president has no power to extend pardon if an offence is committed against religion, the Prophet Muhammad or Allah.”
In the meantime, Card Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, has arrived in Pakistan today. Over the next three days, he will meet with the local Catholic community and various Episcopal commissions as well as participate in an inter-faith meeting.
Today he will meet the civil authorities, including minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti and Pakistan President Zardari.
The cardinal will express to the president the concern of the Holy See about the fate of Asia Bibi, bringing his the wishes expressed in recent days by Pope Benedict XVI in his appeal.
Local sources have reported that Asia Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, and their children have left their home in Sheikupura District for a secret location out of fear of retaliation from local Islamists.
“We are scared,” Masih said. “We received various death threats and warning, especially from Muslim religious leaders. They have even protested near our home.”