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Asma Jahangir assails LHC stay order against presidential pardon for Aasia Bibi

By anita nair

Islamabad, Dec 1 (ANI): Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jahangir has denounced the stay granted by the Lahore High Court against any action leading to a presidential pardon for Christian woman Aasia Bibi, who was sentenced to death by a district judge on charges on blasphemy.

Jahangir expressed surprise that a stay had been granted on an action that was yet to take place, and disapproved of the idea of suspending the constitutional prerogative of the Executive, the Dawn reported.

"If they want to get popular there are other ways to do it. Do not twist the laws as court verdicts become precedence," she remarked, while speaking at a seminar on 'The blasphemy laws: a call for review', organised by Jinnah Institute, a think-tank launched by former information minister Sherry Rehman.

Constitutional expert Basharat Qadir read out Article 45 of the Constitution, which empowers the Pakistan president to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.

Jahangir criticised the blasphemy law in its present form, and observed that laws should be made to protect religious minorities and not to provide a tool for exploitation in the name of religion.

She pointed out that most of the time the complainant was a religious leader, and added that only a mad person would commit blasphemy, and that mentally challenged persons deserved mercy.

"I have never seen anybody committing blasphemy. Why would somebody do it in front of a religious leader," she remarked.

Former chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Dr Khalid Masood, said that 'religious illiteracy' prevailed even among the literates, adding that nowhere in the Holy Quran was any mention of death sentence for those committing blasphemous acts.

Other speakers- including Sherry Rehman, Federal Minister for Minorities' Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti and Ali Hassan- rejected the blasphemy law as discriminatory, and called for either repealing or suitably amending it.

Earlier on Saturday, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khwaja Mohammad Sharif had issued an interim order, restraining President Asif Ali Zardari and his functionaries from taking any action with regard to the death sentence awarded to Aasia under blasphemy laws.

Hearing a petition challenging reported efforts of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer to secure presidential pardon for Aasia, the chief justice sought a report and paragraph-wise comments from the federal government through a deputy Attorney General, and directed an additional advocate general to file report/comments on behalf of the Punjab chief secretary and the personal secretary to the governor by December 6.

"In the meanwhile, no action shall be taken either by the president of Pakistan or anybody working under the authority of the functionaries performing duties under supervision of the governor of the Punjab," the CJ said in his order. (ANI)

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