Zardari may pardon woman sentenced to death for 'blasphemy'

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer has said yesterday he was hopeful that the President will pardon the 45-year-old Aasia Bibi who was sentenced to death by an additional district and sessions court last week for allegedly making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.

Taseer met the mother of five children in Punjab's Sheikupura district jail, where she is being held after her sentencing last week, and got her to sign a clemency petition that will be sent to the President.

The Governor said Aasia Bibi had made an appeal for clemency and he was hopeful that the President would grant her a pardon.

"The President has powers under the constitution to grant such a pardon," he told the media at the jail.

Taseer said he had examined the woman's case and believed there was no incident of blasphemy.

"She is a poor helpless woman who had no legal defence. She does not even have the resources to help herself," he said.

Aasia Bibi has denied the charge and said she was framed because of an earlier dispute with some residents of her village.

"A fake FIR was filed against me due to an old dispute. I am uneducated and can't even think of committing blasphemy," Aasia Bibi, wearing a veil, told reporters at the jail.

There has been an outcry from Pakistani civil society groups over the death sentence given to the Christian woman – the first such case in a country where legal experts say blasphemy laws are routinely misused to harass minority communities. The case has drawn appeals from Pope Benedict XVI and international human rights groups to free her.

In Aasia Bibi's case, police arrested her after a complaint of blasphemy was registered against her by a Muslim cleric in June 2009.

Her lawyer S K Shahid said he had filed an appeal against the sentence in the Lahore High Court. Besides sentencing Aasia Bibi to death, the judge imposed a fine of Rs 300,000 on her.

Shahid said the court proceeding took place under "intense pressure". He added: "Local residents would gather outside the court and shout slogans to pressure the judge."
Experts say a majority of blasphemy cases are filed to settle "personal scores".

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