The infamous Blasphemy Law introduced by Zia in his attempts to appease the clergy and perpetuate his rule, has become center of attention once again. It is being used to defame Pakistan and pressurize the West to stop helping Pakistan. Ever since passage of this law, the reported incidents of blasphemy have increased. These incidents are being blown up to give a message that minorities in Pakistan, and particularly the Christians, have contempt for the religion of Islam and its Prophet.It gives an impression that the law itself incites blasphemy.
Fact of the matter is that prosecution under this law does not take the due process as in case of other offenses with the result that chances of its misuse for settling personal vendetta have increased manifold. Human rights organizations have demanded its repeal whereas conservative religious elements who rule the roost in Pakistan are not prepared to let anyone talk about, let alone revise it. There is a general perception that the accused woman is innocent and has been accused to teach her a lesson. Her clemency appeal is being processed for Zardari’s approval and there are chances that she would be granted pardon and let off the hook. Once freed, she would be worried for her safety unless she is granted asylum in one of the countries abroad.
According to Washington Post, the sentence against Asia Bibi has called new attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which critics say is used to persecute minorities, fan religious extremism and settle personal vendettas. Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five, has already spent 1 1/2 years in jail. A court sentenced her Nov. 8 to hang after convicting her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. She says she was falsely accused by a group of village Muslim women angry with her after a dispute over whether they could share the same water bowl.
Pope Benedict XVI appealed last week for her release, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has asked for a review of the facts of the case, raising the possibility of a presidential pardon. Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who is preparing the report for Zardari, said his preliminary investigations indicate that Bibi was wrongly accused.
“I am convinced that she is innocent and she was wrongly sentenced to death,” Bhatti said.
A provincial official delivered a petition from Bibi for clemency to the president’s office on Monday, Bhatti said. He said he will submit his own report to Zardari on Wednesday, and then the president will make a decision. “I am optimistic about her release,” he said.
Asia’s lawyer has filed an appeal with a higher court in the southern city of Lahore, but she could be freed by a presidential pardon at any time. Pakistan’s Christians, who make up less than 5 percent of the Muslim-majority country‘s 175 million people, are frequently the targets of accusers invoking the law, Bhatti said.