ISLAMABAD: The family of Aasia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, has gone into hiding because of death threats, they said Wednesday.
Politicians and clerics are at loggerheads on whether President Asif Ali Zardari should pardon Aasia Bibi, a mother of five sentenced to hang for defaming the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) under the blasphemy laws.
Minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, who is himself a Christian, told reporters that Aasia’s family had been forced to flee their home but declined to say where they were staying because of security fears.
Aasia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, who works in a brick factory in the Shekhupura district near Lahore, said he and his children aged nine to 20 had left home because of death threats, but declined to say where they were now living.
“We are frightened. We are receiving threats, especially from clerics. They started demonstrations in the area,” he told reporters in Bhatti’s Islamabad office, accompanied by daughters Eesham, nine, and Sidra, 18.
“Yesterday there was a protest in Shekhupura. They said they will not leave Aasia Bibi alive if she is pardoned.”
Masih said the case was baseless and that the family were “not mad to insult any prophet, religion or the Koran”, telling how his children broke down in tears when they found out about their mother’s plight.
Bhatti said he would submit a petition from the family asking Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to pardon Aasia.
“Today they have given me a mercy petition for the prime minister. I will submit it to the prime minister this week. The case is baseless,” said Bhatti.
The governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, has also said he will pass on a petition for clemency to the Pakistani president.
Pope Benedict XVI last week called for Bibi’s release and said Christians in Pakistan were “often victims of violence and discrimination.”
Aasia has filed a separate appeal against the verdict, but no date has been set for a court hearing.
The case began in June 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while working in the fields. Women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim, she should not touch the water bowl.
Bibi was later mobbed by crowds, arrested and prosecuted after Muslim women complained that she made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).