Asia Bibi faces death penalty for “blasphemy” [Updated]
In this village in Pakistan’s Punjab province a tearful 12-year-old girl ponders if the Pakistani government will soon hang her mother. “Whenever I see her picture I cry,” Isham Masih told CNN. “I want my mother back. That’s what I’m praying for.” This month a Pakistani court sentenced Isham’s mother, 45-year-old Asia Bibi, to death, not because she killed, injured or stole, but simply because she said something. Prosecutors say Bibi, who is a Christian, broke Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law by insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment according to Pakistan’s penal code.
UPDATE: Falsely accused:
A preliminary investigation shows that a Pakistani Christian woman has been falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, a government official said Monday.
“The president asked me to investigate her case and my preliminary findings show she is innocent and the charges against her are baseless,” Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told CNN.
Asia Bibi, who has been jailed for nearly 15 months, was convicted in a Pakistani court earlier this month of breaking the country’s controversial blasphemy law, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan’s penal code. She was sentenced to death.
Bibi filed a petition for mercy Saturday, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari asked Bhatti to investigate the case, Bhatti said. Bhatti emphasized Monday that he has reached only preliminary conclusions and will submit a final report Wednesday to Zardari’s office.
UPDATE II: Protesters oppose pardon for Pakistani Christian:
Around 250 hard-line Muslims staged a demonstration in the central Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, warning the president not to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting Islam.
They also denounced any attempt to change Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which critics say is often misused to persecute Christians like Asia Bibi and other minorities. Her case has prompted outrage from human rights groups and a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XVI for her release.
But hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan have pushed back and some have even threatened officials in the past who suggested reforming or repealing the blasphemy law. These groups have significant power since politicians from the major parties rely on them for votes.
UPDATE III: Pardon denied:
A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.