Aasia Bibi’s husband begs for presidential pardon

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The husband of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy four years ago, has written to President Mamnoon Hussain to ask for her to be pardoned and allowed to move to France.

Aasia Bibi has been on death row since November 2010 after she was found guilty of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) during an argument with a Muslim woman.

The Lahore High Court confirmed the death sentence last month, dashing hopes it might be commuted to a jail term.

“We are convinced that Aasia will only be saved from being hanged if the venerable President (Mamnoon) Hussain grants her a pardon. No one should be killed for drinking a glass of water,” husband Ashiq Masih wrote in an open letter dated November 17 and published by the New York Times.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has said the couple are welcomed in the city, and Masih quoted his wife as saying she sent her “deepest thanks to you Madame Mayor, and to all the kind people of Paris and across the world”.

Masih added his wife was not guilty of blasphemy.

The plea for being allowed to move to Paris comes days after Hidalgo requested President Mamnoon Hussain to grant her a pardon.

Senior opposition leader Bruno Retailleau Wednesday asked French President Francois Hollande to intervene in the case.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the country, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence.

Masih, 50, lives in hiding with two of his five children and has to keep his identity secret as he scrapes together a living as a daily labourer. He visits his wife once a month, making a five and a half hour journey to her jail in Multan.

The allegations against Bibi date back to June 2009, when she was labouring in a field and a row broke out with some Muslim women she was working with.

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

A few days later the women went to a local cleric and put forward the blasphemy allegations.

Amnesty International has raised “serious concerns” about the fairness of her trial and has called for her release.

Pakistan has never executed anyone for blasphemy and has had a de-facto moratorium on civilian executions since 2008. But anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.