ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (BP)–A court in Pakistan blocked the president from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy until an appeals court hears her case.
Asia Noreen (also identified as Asia Bibi by some media) was sentenced to death Nov. 8 after a court in Pakistan’s Punjab province found her guilty of blasphemous statements against Islam’s prophet Muhammad. Under Pakistan’s blasphemy law, it is a crime punishable by death to blaspheme the Islamic prophet.
Pakistan’s minister for foreign affairs conducted a three-day investigation into the case at the request of President Asif Ali Zardari and concluded Bibi is innocent and should be released, CNN reported. “This case was filed on the basis of religious and personal enmity,” Minister Shahbaz Bhatti said, according to CNN.
However, on Nov. 29 Chauhdary Hanif Khatana, deputy advocate general of Punjab province, said the president must wait to use his powers to pardon because the death sentence is not final until confirmed by a higher court.
Noreen’s defense lawyer, Khan Chauhdary, said he has filed an appeal against the death sentence but that the appeal would take two or three years to be heard, CNN reported. Zardari’s office said he would pardon Noreen if necessary after the legal process has run its course.
Jonathan Racho, a spokesman for the human rights organization International Christian Concern, expressed grave concern over Noreen’s plight.
“It’s deeply disturbing that Muslim radicals are using the legal system in Pakistan to delay the release of Bibi [Noreen],” Racho said. “We urge Pakistan to immediately release Bibi and repeal the blasphemy laws that are causing persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan.”
Zardari has asked Bhatti to prepare a list of scholars and experts who could recommend reforms “to effectively prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law for personal and political reasons,” CNN reported.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.