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Conflicting Stories Surround Pardon of Christian Woman in Pakistan

Dan Wooding | ASSIST News Service | Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Conflicting Stories Surround Pardon of Christian Woman in Pakistan

November 24, 2010

ITTANWALAI, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- Mystery surrounds the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of four who was sentenced to death on Nov. 8 for alleged blasphemy.

Several sources inside of Pakistan had claimed that Asia Bibi, also known as Asia Noreen, who had already spent the last year and a half in prison, was set free on Monday after being pardoned by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

According to a source in Pakistan, "She has gone now into hiding over fears for her safety."

The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) told ANS that it "welcomes the release of Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan."

But other sources are now saying this claim is premature.

A respected source close to the case has said that according to their latest information, Bibi has not been pardoned and that her mercy plea has been sent to the Punjab Home Department, which will forward it to the Interior Ministry for onward submission to the Presidency.

The source went on to say that the presidential spokesman has just made a statement that President Zardari has not "received any such plea" but he may consider it on the "advice of the prime minister."

It is also believed that, if an when she receives a possible presidential pardon, a strike has being called for Wednesday with threats of violence could that erupt if Asia is released.

Bibi was found guilty of blasphemy despite there being no evidence that she committed the crime and her repeated denial of the charges laid against her.

She was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad by Muslim field workers following a dispute over their different faiths. When she was asked to bring a cup of water, the women refused to drink from it, saying that it had been touched by a Christian and was therefore "unclean."

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.

The case has made international headlines and thrown the spotlight on what many Pakistani Christians believe are unjust blasphemy laws.

Nasir Saeed, Coordinator of CLAAS in the UK, told ANS: "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."

ANS will continue to follow this case and will bring you the latest news once it becomes available.

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