(CNSNews.com) – An American Islamic advocacy group says that if Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is “smart,” he will garner support from politicians and scholars in his country for pardoning Asia Bibi, the first Pakistani Christian woman to be sentenced to death for “blaspheming” Mohammed.
A “sensible solution” can be reached on the issue, and if Zardari “has the guts,” he will pardon Bibi, Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) spokesman Naeem Baig told CNSNews.com.
Section 295 of the Pakistan penal code contains clauses that prohibit “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs,” including one specifically dealing with insults directed at Mohammed, and another with insults targeting the Qur’an.
Section 295 C states: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death.”
Bibi, a mother of five in her mid-40s from a village in Punjab province, was sentenced to death last November after being convicted of blasphemy. She was arrested in June 2009 after Muslim co-workers alleged she had insulted Mohammed during an argument in a field where she and they had been working.
“Do you see Zardari pardoning her?” CNSNews.com asked Baig, ICNA’s vice-president of public affairs, who grew up in Pakistan.
“If Zardari has the guts – I don’t know, but I think a sensible solution can be achieved,” said Baig. “Zardari, if he’s smart, he can bring scholars [and] politicians on one table and, you know, let them know this is what I want to do and help me support it and I think that can be done.”
Baig said his organization has been advocating for the protection of religious minorities in Pakistan, Christians in particular.
“Pakistan needs to make an extra effort in supporting and protecting the Christian community,” he said. “When it comes to security of minorities, protecting especially the Christian community, we have issued statements, we have spoken with the [Pakistani] ambassador himself.”
Baig recalled that while in Pakistan he had attended school with Christian friends. “It was never an issue," he said.
“In very extremes they use the law because when they saw that some of the people were making a scene out of it, coming out in public, instigating violence,” he said. “I think these issues in today’s world, they have to be understood in this larger setting, [it] is not just very simply a Pakistani issue.”
CNSNews.com spoke with Baig outside the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington D.C. where his organization, along with other advocacy groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), are accusing the bureau of an anti-Muslim bias in training its agents.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been controversial for years, but Bibi’s case brought new attention to the issue.
Two prominent politicians who oppose the laws and called for clemency for Bibi -- federal Minorities Minister Shabhaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the cabinet, and Punjab’s Muslim state governor, Salman Taseer -- were both assassinated early this year.
In its annual report on international religious freedom, released on Sept. 13, the State Department did not designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under U.S. law for engaging in or tolerating “particular severe violations of religious freedom.”
The report noted that after Zardari had initially signaled he was considering pardoning Bibi he then “refrained from doing so.”
The decision not to name Pakistan as a CPC came despite the recommendation of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, an independent statutory body.
According to the State Department, Bibi is still in custody.