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By Aftab Alexander Mughal

On November 29, Lahore High Court (LHC) in Punjab province of Pakistan has issued a stay order against the release of Aasia Noreen, a poor Pakistani Christian woman, under Presidential Order.

Mrs Noreen, 45-years old and a resident of Ittawali village (a Muslim village) in Nankana district, Punjab province of Pakistan, was sentenced to death by District and Session Judge Nankana Judge Naveed Iqbal after the court found her guilty of making blasphemous statements against Prophet Muhammad. On November 8, 2010, she was charged under a controversial blasphemy law Section 295 C, Pakistan Panel Code (PPC). Under the law it is a crime punishable by death to blaspheme the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The case became very famous because human rights organisations and Christian groups in Pakistan started a campaign for her release and for the repeal of blasphemy laws.

Earlier, she has sent a clemency appeal to the President Asif Ali Zardari for her release through the Governor of Punjab Salman Taseer. Since then the hardliner Islamic parties have been organising protest rallies against the Governor and any likely pardon of Aasia Noreen.

A petition filed at the LHC by Shahid Iqbal said Aasia Noreen’s matter is subjudice; hence, the President is not authorized to give the reprieve. Aasia Noreen cannot be pardoned free until the judicial process is complete, the petitioner said.

The LHC Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif, who has allegedly biased attitude against religious minorities, issued a stay order, sought a reply from the federal and provincial governments.

Pakistan is an Islamic country where Christians make up less than two (2) per cent of the total population of the country. Since the country slowly Islamised, Christians have become more vulnerable to malicious accusations under blasphemy laws. Christians have been suffering by routine discrimination in many areas of life; socially, culturally, economically and politically. Many Christian girls are abducted and forced to convert to Islam. Sometimes local mobs are incited by imams to attack Christians under alleged allegations of blasphemy against Islam, Prophet Muhammad and the holy book Quran. In a one major case after few years of Pakistan’s independence, in 1952, a Christian family of 7 were burned alive in the village of Matti, Punjab province.

The controversial blasphemy laws which protect only one religion, Islam, were introduced in the 1980s by General Zia ul Haq.

A report says that from 1986 till now, 4,000 cases were reported. From 1986 till 2007, 361 cases were registered in which 761 people (49 per cent were non-Muslims) were sentenced by the courts. Majority of cases, 69 per cent, were registered in Punjab province, 25 per cent in Khyber Pukhtonkhaw province and 25 per cent reported in Sindh province.

Aftab Alexander Mughal

Editor, Minorities Concern of Pakistan

November 29, 2010

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