Pakistani President frees Christian woman facing death for blasphemy

Published 23 November 2010  |  
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has today freed a Christian mother-of-two facing execution for supposedly committing blasphemy.

Asia Bibi had already spent the last year and a half in prison after Muslim colleagues on the fruit farm where she worked accused her of blasphemy following a dispute between them over their different faiths.

She was arrested in June 2009 in her home village of Ittanwalai, west of the Punjab provincial capital of Lahore, and prosecuted under Section 295 B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries a mandatory death penalty.

She became the first Christian woman in Pakistan to be handed the death sentence during a court hearing on November 8.

The 45-year-old was freed not long after President Zardari pardoned her today in the face of pressure from the international community.

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), which provides free legal support to persecuted Christians in Pakistan, welcomed news of Bibi's release.

It was among the many Christian and human rights groups to condemn the rulings. It maintains that the charges laid against Bibi were false and warned that there would be similar cases in the future unless Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws were repealed.

Nasir Saeed, Coordinator of CLAAS in the UK, said: "This is the only acceptable outcome to what has been a travesty of justice from the outset. Asia Bibi should never have been charged with blasphemy, let alone found guilty and sentenced to death.

"The ordeal faced by her and her family is unimaginable to most people outside of Pakistan who are largely unaware of the abuse and discrimination faced by the tiny Christian minority there.

"The blasphemy laws smack in the face of democracy and human rights and only reinforce the notion that Christians and other religious minorities in the country are somehow inferior and less human.

"We are relieved and overjoyed at Asia Bibi's release but so long as the blasphemy laws remain in place there is no telling when another innocent Christian will face being executed because of something they said."

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