Christian woman wrongly accused of blasphemy: Pak minister

An official report submitted to Pak Prez recommends pardon for Asia Bibi.

Islamabad: A Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for committing blasphemy had been wrongly charged, an official report submitted to President Asif Ali Zardari has said, recommending pardon for her.

The report and supporting documents submitted to the President 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."

Bhatti, who is himself a Christian, called on Zardari at the presidency and presented the report on Asia Bibi case, a 45-year-old mother of five who was recently convicted and sentenced to death by a lower court in Punjab.

The report recommended that Asia Bibi should be pardoned and her sentence suspended. It also recommended providing security to Asia Bibi, currently on death row in a jail in Punjab, and to her family.

However, Pakistani Taliban leader Maulvi Fakir Muhammad warned authorities that any move to pardon Asia Bibi would have grave consequences. He told the BBC that any international pressure regarding the Christian woman`s case would not be tolerated.

Muhammad said the Taliban would oppose any move by the government to pardon Asia Bibi and this could lead to grave consequences. He claimed that Pakistan is an Islamic country and decisions should be made by the authorities while remaining within certain limits.

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 and filed an appeal against the death sentence given to her. Her case has outraged Pakistani liberals and rights groups.

The woman`s family has gone into hiding after receiving threats, her husband Ashiq Masih told reporters yesterday. Several religious groups, including one closely linked to the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, have organised protests across Pakistan and warned the President not to pardon her.

Minority Affairs Minister Bhatti, while presenting his report to the President, said people belonging to minority communities knew the consequences of blasphemy and could never think of committing such an offence.

He said that before the introduction of the blasphemy law in its current form by late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s, not a single case of blasphemy against minorities had ever surfaced in Pakistan. After the promulgation of the law, hundreds of non-Muslims had been wrongly involved in blasphemy cases, he said.

Many of the accused had been killed without recourse to judicial process and many fled the country but no action was taken against the culprits, Bhatti said.

President Zardari asked Bhatti to propose names for a committee of scholars and experts to recommend reformed procedures to effectively prevent the misuse of the blasphemy law for personal and political reasons.

The committee to be headed by the Minority Affairs Minister should draw up its recommendations in consultation with political parties and stakeholders for the consideration of the government, Zardari said.

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar quoted Zardari as saying that the government would not allow anyone to misuse the blasphemy law and would take all appropriate measures to stop growing incidents of its misuse.