“The minister (Bhatti) has been asked to dig out facts in the case,” presidential spokesperson Farhatullah Babar told The Express Tribune on Saturday. He added that there were conflicting media reports with some suggesting that Aasia was implicated in a blasphemy case to settle some other dispute.
Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, who visited Aasia on Saturday, reportedly claimed that the woman has appealed for clemency to the president. He said she had steadfastly denied any instance of blasphemy and declared that she was being wrongly accused of the crime, besides being dragged in streets and gang-raped. Taseer said he would personally carry her clemency request to the president.
However, the presidential spokesperson said it would be premature to say if the president would accept any such plea. He added that the presidency has not received any clemency application so far. He added that under the law such pleas come to the president only through the ministry of interior.
In most cases people convicted in lower courts on charges such as that of blasphemy are exonerated during the process of appeals in the higher courts. The presidential pardon is considered as a last option.
According to estimates, between the year 1988 and 2005 some 647 people were charged under the blasphemy law, which was enforced by General Ziaul Haq. Fifty per cent of the people charged were non-Muslim. Twenty of those charged were murdered soon after their sentences.
Aasia, a 45-year-old Christian woman, was sentenced to death by additional district and sessions court in Sheikhupura last week for allegedly making derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
Aasia, mother of five children, has denied the charge of blasphemy and told investigators that she was being persecuted for her faith.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 21st, 2010.