Asia Bibi report to Zardari, but Islamist parties threaten Minister Bhatti
by Jibran Khan
Islamist parties are turning the Bibi case in a weapon against the government. Reports that she has already been released have been denied. Minorities Affairs minister is convinced that a pardon will be granted shortly. Bhatti says that extremists have threatened him.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s religious parties have come down heavily against the government led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). They are also critical of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer for his “unIslamic” attempts to obtain a pardon and exile for Asia Bibi in the United States. They have called for his immediate removal from office and punishment. Various Islamic organisations have held demonstrations and rallies against the government and the country’s “secular” lobby, accusing Mr Taseer of being part of an “international conspiracy” to change the blasphemy law.

At a meeting of the Jamaat e Islami, Ameer Syed Munawar Hasan said that the central government and Governor Taseer were trying to free the Christian woman and send her abroad in violation of Islamic laws and the law of the land in collusion with foreign powers rather than follow the law and file an appeal against her death sentence.

He condemned the campaign by Taseer and the country's secular lobby for the release and exile of Ms Bibi. He said that this would prove to be the final nail in Zardari government's coffin, as the country would foil every conspiracy to abolish the Blasphemy Law.

Another organisation, Aalmi Tanzim Ahle Sunnat (ATAS), staged a demonstration outside the Lahore Press Club, condemning what they called a “conspiracy” to amend the blasphemy law and exile a blasphemy convict.

Here too Governor Taseer was harshly attacked. ATAS chief Pir Afzal Qadri and others rejected the argument that the blasphemy law was the work of General Zia-ul-Haq, claiming instead that it was created by the Prophet Muhammad, the caliphs and all those who came in the following centuries.

Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti is set to meet President Zardari today to hand him the Asia Bibi report. Bhatti denied rumours that she had already been released.

He said that the pardon should be granted very soon, adding that Asia Bibi would be at risk because extremists have threatened to kill her.

“There is a shared willingness to amend it [the blasphemy law] to avoid its distorted use against minorities,” he said. “We must build a consensus in favour of its abolition, but that is not easy to do politically.”

If Ms Bibi is freed, extremists have threatened Mr Bhatti as well. “I am not afraid of these threats," he said. "I am ready to sacrifice everything for the justice that I believe in."