A group of hard-line Muslims, including many students from Islamic schools, protested Wednesday in the city of Lahore against a possible presidential pardon for a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy.
About 250 people participated in the demonstration, organized by the Movement for Protection of the Prophet’s Honor, to oppose the pardon and the effort to change the country’s controversial blasphemy law, which has been widely condemned by the international community and human rights groups.
“We are ready to sacrifice our life for the Prophet Muhammad,” protesters chanted, according to The Associated Press.
Also on Wednesday, two well-known Pakistani Muslim leaders threatened to call for a nationwide protest if President Asif Ali Zadari goes through with the pardon.
“If the president pardons Asia Bibi, we will raise our voices across the country until he is forced to take his decision back,” said Mufti Muneer Ur Rehman, according to CNN.
Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was scheduled to submit his report investigating the accusation against Bibi – the first woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan – on Wednesday to President Zardari. But Bhatti today said he will submit the report on Thursday.
Bibi on Saturday had signed a petition pleading with Zardari for a presidential pardon. Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, one of the most vocal advocates for Bibi’s release, delivered the petition to Zardari.
In an interview with CNN International’s “Connect the World” program Tuesday, Taseer said President Zardari will pardon the Christian woman sentenced to death by hanging.
“What basically he’s made it clear is that she’s not going to be a victim of this law,” Taseer said. “I mean, he’s a liberal, modern-minded president and he’s not going to see a poor woman like this targeted and executed. … It’s just not going to happen.”
The Punjab governor also highlighted that Bibi appealed her case to the higher court, which could also overrule the lower court’s decision. Either through the higher court or a presidential pardon, BIbi will be set free, Taseer said.
In the past, Pakistan’s courts have issued death sentences for blasphemy, but no executions have been carried out. All the death sentences were thrown out upon appeal.
Bibi, a mother of five, has been imprisoned for one-and-a-half years without being allowed to give her statement in court. Her current imprisonment, she said, stems from a petty argument she had with fellow field workers in June 2009.
She was picking fruit in the field with fellow Muslim workers and went to get water for the group. Upon returning, the Muslim women in the field refused to drink the water because the container was touched by a Christian.
Bibi was offended and argued with the women, but then afterwards thought nothing of the incident. However, a few days later dozens of Muslims dragged her away. She was accused of blasphemy against the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, which she denies.
“I have small children,” pleaded Bibi to reporters Saturday from her prison in Punjab province. “For God’s sake, please set me free.”
Bhatti, a Christian and former chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, said earlier this week that his preliminary findings show that Bibi is innocent and he will recommend that the president pardons her. The minorities minister said he has received death threats for his work on behalf of the persecuted but he is not afraid.
“I am ready to sacrifice everything for the justice that I believe in,” Bhatti said, according to AP.
Pakistan’s Christian community makes up less than five percent of the country’s population of 175 million people.