UPDATE: Pakistan: Asma Jahangir assails stay order against presidential pardon for Asia Bibi
Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jahangir has denounced the stay granted by the Lahore High Court against any action leading to a presidential pardon for Christian woman Aasia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by a district judge on charges on blasphemy. Jahangir expressed surprise that a stay had been granted on an action that was yet to take place, and disapproved of the idea of suspending the constitutional prerogative of the Executive, the Dawn reported. Update to Pakistan: WLUML statement: Ensure the safety of Asia Bibi and her family and repeal Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws
"If they want to get popular there are other ways to do it. Do not twist the laws as court verdicts become precedence," she remarked, while speaking at a seminar on 'The blasphemy laws: a call for review', organised by Jinnah Institute, a think-tank launched by former information minister Sherry Rehman.
Constitutional expert Basharat Qadir read out Article 45 of the Constitution, which empowers the Pakistan president to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.
Jahangir criticised the blasphemy law in its present form, and observed that laws should be made to protect religious minorities and not to provide a tool for exploitation in the name of religion.
She pointed out that most of the time the complainant was a religious leader, and added that only a mad person would commit blasphemy, and that mentally challenged persons deserved mercy.
"I have never seen anybody committing blasphemy. Why would somebody do it in front of a religious leader," she remarked.
Former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Dr Khalid Masood, said that 'religious illiteracy' prevailed even among the literates, adding that nowhere in the Holy Quran was any mention of death sentence for those committing blasphemous acts.
Other speakers- including Sherry Rehman, Federal Minister for Minorities' Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and Ali Hassan- rejected the blasphemy law as discriminatory, and called for either repealing or suitably amending it.
Earlier on Saturday, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khwaja Mohammad Sharif had issued an interim order, restraining President Asif Ali Zardari and his functionaries from taking any action with regard to the death sentence awarded to Aasia under blasphemy laws.
Hearing a petition challenging reported efforts of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer to secure presidential pardon for Aasia, the chief justice sought a report and paragraph-wise comments from the federal government through a deputy Attorney General, and directed an additional advocate general to file report/comments on behalf of the Punjab chief secretary and the personal secretary to the governor by December 6.
"In the meanwhile, no action shall be taken either by the president of Pakistan or anybody working under the authority of the functionaries performing duties under supervision of the governor of the Punjab," the CJ said in his order.
ASIA NEWS: Islamic radicals still on a war footing against the possibility of a pardon for the woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. The Taliban announces that they will oppose it in every way, and the leader of the Sunni council threatens "anarchy in the country." Her husband: "Asia Bibi fears for her family."
The religious radicals in Pakistan have warned the president against the risk of provoking a wave of public outrage if he grants a pardon to the woman convicted of blasphemy. This conflict highlights the government's difficult relations with the official religion, in a country where few wish to be considered soft on the enemies of Islam. Religious fundamentalists took to the streets in Lahore and Karachi Friday, November 26th to show their anger while the Pakistani government decides whether to grant clemency to a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy. Many Pakistani Muslims feel offended by the notion that the death sentence of Asia Bibi could be revoked.
According to reports, the demonstrations were organized by an association close to Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a charitable organization that is banned by the UN because suspected of terrorist links. The chief coordinator of the JuD, Qari Yaqub, told protesters: "We will protest at the national level if the government forgives the Christian woman." The head of the Sunni Ittehad Council, Sahibzada Fazal Kareem, told AsiaNews: "A pardon would lead to anarchy in the country. Our position is very clear, this punishment can not be cancelled. " Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, deputy head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, has warned of serious consequences if the government graces the woman, who was sentenced on 8 November 2010 for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad. Faqir Muhammad, speaking from an undisclosed location to an international news channel, said that the Taliban will resist any attempt to pardon Asia Bibi.
Asia Bibi's husband, Ashiq Maisha, speaking in Punjabi to AsiaNews said: "Asia had been very strong in prison.She is different now. She is mentally stressed. She is very scared for her life and for the life of her family". The family home is now a single bedroom, down a side street of a Christian colony. A cheery sign hangs on the wall as a reminder of the family's faith - "God Bless Our Home" - but the patchy whitewash, dirty beds and incessant buzz of mosquitoes reek of quiet desperation.
by Jibran Khan
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