Pak court bars Zardari from pardoning blasphemy accused woman

Chief Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif of the Lahore High Court issued the stay order in response to a petition filed by a man named Shahid Iqbal, who claimed Asia Bibi's case is sub-judice and the President was not authorised to grant her a reprieve.

Chief Justice Sharif also issued notices to the federal and Punjab governments, asking the federal Law Secretary and the provincial chief Secretary to file detailed replies on the matter by December 6.

The petitioner also demanded the disqualification of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer for taking up the matter of a presidential pardon for Asia Bibi. In this regard, the court sought a response from the personal secretary to the Governor.

The petitioner claimed 45-year-old Asia Bibi, a mother of five, could not be pardoned until the judicial process is completed. Asia Bibi's husband has filed an appeal in the Lahore High Court against the death sentence given to her earlier this month by a lower court in Nankana Sahib.

Asia Bibi was arrested last year after a Muslim cleric accused her of blasphemy shortly after she had a row with a group of Muslim women. She has denied the charge. Her case has outraged Pakistani liberals and rights groups.

A report recently submitted to President Zardari by Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti "concluded that the blasphemy case against Asia Bibi has been registered on grounds of personal enmity and the story narrated in the FIR was concocted and mala fide". However, hardline religious groups and the Taliban have opposed any move to pardon her.

Asia Bibi's case has triggered a fresh debate on the need to repeal or reform the blasphemy law introduced by the regime of late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq.

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