Pakistani President Frees Falsey Accused Christian Woman

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari pardoned and released a Christian woman who was sentenced to death after being falsely accused of blaspheming the prophet Mohammed, putting an end to a case that drew international condemnation of the nation’s draconian blasphemy law.

The Christian Post is reporting that Asia Bibi, 45, was set free yesterday after spending one-and-a-half years in prison without being permitted to give a statement in her defense in court. President Zardari pardoned her after she signed a petition on Saturday pleading for his mercy. “I have small children,” wrote the mother of five in the petition. “For God’s sake, please set me free.” The petition was delivered to Zardari by Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer.

“This is the only acceptable outcome to what has been a travesty of justice from the outset,” said Nasir Saeed, coordinator for U.K.-based Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). “Asia Bibi should never have been charged with blasphemy, let alone found guilty and sentenced to death.”

He went on to say that the ordeal faced by Bibi 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.”

Bibi’s imprisonment began in 2009 after she was involved in a petty dispute with village women who refused to drink water she had drawn for them because it had been touched by a Christian. Bibi was offended and momentarily argued with the women, but thought nothing more of the incident.

A few days later, dozens of Muslims dragged her from her home to a mosque where she was ordered to convert to Islam. When she refused, they beat her and threw her in prison on trumped up charges of blasphemy. Months later, she was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death by hanging.

The case drew renewed attention to the country’s harsh blasphemy laws which are regularly abused in Pakistan to settle grudges against religious minorities. Punishments usually range from  imprisonment and fines to beatings and even the death sentence. However, all death sentences issued thus far have been thrown out on appeal. 

The Bibi case provoked international condemnation of the laws which the government is afraid to repeal because they fear a backlash from Islamic militants.

“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,” said Saeed of CLAAS in the U.K.

“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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