CAIR: ‘It’s Best To Release’ Christian Woman On Death Row in Pakistan

Edwin Mora | September 28, 2011 | 12:42pm EDT
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( -- The national legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Corey Sailor, said it would be best for Pakistan to release Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death by hanging for alleged blasphemy against Islam’s prophet Mohammed.

Outside FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., asked CAIR’s Sailor:  “Asia Bibi, a Christian, has been charged with blasphemy in Pakistan, which calls for the execution or life imprisonment of those who defame Mohammed. Do you think Pakistani President [Asif Ali] Zardari should pardon her given that she is denying the accusations?”

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Sailor said: “Well we’ve, in the past, pointed out our position that we do not believe that apostasy is cause for execution of anyone. We believe that people have the right to their individual religious beliefs and we believe that Pakistan should reflect that and respect a person’s individual religious beliefs.”

When asked again whether he believes Zardari should pardon Bibi, Sailor said, “I’d have to be given the specifics of the case. But given that scenario that you gave me -- that this is a Christian who’s being held based purely on their beliefs – then in that case that would be a scenario in which we would say it’s best to release her.”

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari. (AP Photo)

According to CNN, Section 295 C of the Pakistani penal code states, “Whoever ... defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine." asked Sailor whether he thinks Pakistan should repeal that law.

Sailor said, “I’m not a Pakistani adviser, but CAIR’s understanding is that a person has the right under Islam to hold their own sincerely held religious beliefs and we do not believe that governments have the place to enforce beliefs on everyone. So, simply said, we don’t believe that Allah needs people following him who’ve been compelled to. We believe the faith appeals to people in and of itself and that should be enough.” spoke to Sailor outside the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21 where CAIR, along with some other Muslim advocacy groups were accusing the bureau of using biased training about Islam and Muslims.

According to media reports, in June 2009, Bibi was working picking berries in a field along with some Muslim women. During the course of her work, she was sent to get drinking water. When she returned, the Muslim women refused to drink from the bucket containing the water. The women alleged that the water was impure because it had been touched by a Christian.

Pakistani protesters shout slogans at an anti-American rally in Multan, Pakistan on Friday, Sept 23, 2011. Pakistan lashed out at the U.S. for accusing the country's most powerful intelligence agency of supporting extremist attacks against American targets in Afghanistan _ the most serious allegations against Islamabad since the beginning of the Afghan war. (AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer)

Then the Muslim women went to a cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy, alleging that the Christian had verbally defamed Muhammad, although that is a matter of dispute. Bibi has denied the charges.

The Christian woman was then charged with blasphemy and imprisoned for a year-and-a-half as a result. She received trial on November 2010 and was "convicted on the evidence of two witnesses who were not present in the fields where the exchange is supposed to have taken place,” the London Telegraph reported.

Bibi is married and has five children. Pakistani Minister of Religious Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, backed by Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, called on the Pakistani president to pardon Bibi. Bhatti also suggested a change to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. However, both Bhatti and Taseer were assassinated earlier this year.

In its latest International Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. State Department does not include Pakistan as one of the “countries of particular concern” that engage in or tolerate “particular severe violations of religious freedom.”

However, the report does acknowledge that “after initially signaling he was considering pardoning Asia Bibi's death penalty sentence for alleged blasphemy, President Zardari refrained from doing so." Bibi is still in custody, according to the State Department.

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