Islamabad: Pakistan`s president will not
immediately pardon a Christian woman sentenced to die for
insulting Islam but may do so later if an appeals court delays
her case too long, an official said on Thursday.
Pope Benedict XVI has appealed for the release of Asia
Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five who has said she was
wrongly accused by a group of Muslim women with a grudge
The case has prompted outrage from international
rights groups and inflamed religious passions at home. In
recent days, demonstrations have been staged both by
Pakistan`s Christian minority calling for her release and also
by hard-line Muslims warning against any pardon for her and
defending the country`s blasphemy law, which critics say is
misused to settle personal scores and by extremists to
Bibi, 45, is the first woman condemned to die under
the blasphemy law. She has been jailed for 18 months and was
sentenced November 8 to hang.
Her lawyer has filed an appeal with the Lahore High
Court, and President Asif Ali Zardari has decided to let the
appeal process play out instead of immediately pardoning her,
said Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, who met
with Zardari today.
Pardoning Bibi would carry political risk for Zardari,
whose coalition government relies on an Islamic political
party in Parliament.
However, Zardari agreed to pardon Bibi later if the
appeal case is unduly delayed, Bhatti said. Zardari`s
spokesman could not be reached today.
Bhatti - who has said he believes Bibi is innocent -
said Zardari did not specify any deadline but said he believes
the president "will not wait months or weeks".