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Rumours of Bibi pardon stoke unrest

25 November 2010

by a staff reporter

THE President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, is expected to pardon Asia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy (News, 19 November), the Governor of Punjab state, Salmaan Taseer, has confirmed.

Speaking to CNN on Tuesday, Mr Taseer said: “He’s a liberal, modern-minded president and he’s not going to see a poor woman like this targeted and executed. . . It’s just not going to happen.”

There had been conflicting reports earlier this week that Mrs Bibi, aged 45, had already received a presidential pardon and been released. But it later emerged that, although Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs, Shah­baz Bhatti, had declared that she was innocent, a final report still had to be submitted to the President’s office. That report was due to be submitted on Wednesday.

Release International, a char­i­ty that serves persecuted Chris­tians worldwide, reported that rumours of her release had led to an angry reaction from Muslims. The charity said that, fearing a violent backlash, Mrs Bibi’s family had moved to a place of safety.

Many Muslims gathered out­side the prison where Mrs Bibi is being held, and lawyers in the region where she was convicted have gone on strike in protest at Mr Bhatti’s asser­tion of her innocence. News agencies in Pak­istan are reporting threats of street protests from some religious groups if she is granted a pardon by the President.

Mrs Bibi has served 15 months in prison after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad during a dispute with Muslim co-workers who refused to drink from a bucket of water she had touched. She and her family have denied the charge.

Mrs Bibi was convicted and sen­tenced to execution by a regional court near Lahore. Her sentence provoked international outcry, and, last week, Pope Benedict XVI called for her full and immediate release.

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