LHC overstepped in barring Zardari from pardoning blasphemy-accused Christian: HRW
Related Article: Nawaz Sharif’s sectarian poodle in Lahore High Court stays Aasia bibi’s release
The Lahore High Court’s order to bar President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning Aasia Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy, contravenes Pakistan’s constitution and should be withdrawn immediately, an international human rights organisation Watch has said.
“The Lahore high court has overstepped its constitutional authority by preventing President Zardari from pardoning Aasia Bibi, who was unjustly convicted under a discriminatory law,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The court has blocked Zardari from promptly correcting a cruel wrong and instead has disgraced Pakistan’s judiciary,” he added.
Aasia Bibi was charged under the blasphemy law after a June 2009 altercation with fellow farm workers who refused to drink water she had touched, contending it was “unclean” because she was Christian. On November 8, the Sheikhupura District Court found her guilty, ruling that there were “no mitigating circumstances.”
However, following domestic and international outrage over the sentence, the Pakistan president ordered a review of the case, and a ministerial inquiry concluded on November 25 that the district court verdict was legally unsound.
But the Lahore High Court in Punjab province issued an order on November 29, 2010, barring Zardari from exercising his constitutional authority to pardon Aasia.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for repealing of the blasphemy law and other discriminatory provisions in Pakistan’s penal code.
“Not only do those charged under the blasphemy law suffer persecution, it is evident the ill effects of discriminatory laws are compounded by unsympathetic courts,” said Hasan. (ANI)
Earlier Asma Jahangir, human rights activist and chairperson of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), criticised the courts restraining order.
“The president is yet to grant pardon. So there was no need for such an order,” she said, adding that “the court should not take such populist stance”.
A spokesman for President Asif Ali Zardari responded to the statement of the Lahore High Court, claiming the prerogative and powers of the President. President Zardari through his spokesman said that the High Court has no jurisdiction over his duties and, under Article 45 of the Constitution, the President may at any time decide to grant a pardon. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, with a statement of “its motion” (ie, of their own initiative) has confirmed this interpretation, noting that only the Supreme Court may give binding instructions to the Government or the President.
The Constitution says as follows:
45. President’s power to grant pardon, etc.
The President shall have power to grant pardon, reprieve and respite, and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.
248. Protection to President, Governor, Minister, etc.
(1) The President, a Governor, the Prime Minister, a Federal Minister, a Minister of State, the Chief Minister and a Provincial Minister shall not he answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions:
Provided that nothing in this clause shall be construed as restricting the right of any person to bring appropriate proceedings against the Federation or a Province.
55-A. Saving for President prerogative:
Nothing in Section fifty-four or Section fifty-five shall derogate from the right of the President to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment:
Provided that such right shall not without the consent of the victim or, as the case may be. of the heirs of the victim, be exercised for any sentence awarded under Chapter XVI.
Pak Court Bars Govt from Amending Blasphemy Law
LAHORE | DEC 06, 2010
A Pakistani court today restrained the government from amending the blasphemy law, which has been at the centre of a heated debate after a Christian woman was convicted under it and sentenced to death last month.
Chief Justice Justice Khwaja Sharif of the Lahore High Court barred the government from introducing any change in the blasphemy law in response to a petition filed by a man named Muhammad Nasir.
Sharif issued a notice asking the government to clarify its position on the issue at the next hearing scheduled for December 23.
In his petition, Nasir asked the court to stop the federal government from making any change in the law.
The Chief Justice said the government should not take any step till the court gives its verdict on the petition.
Nasir further said in his petition that the government plans to change the law.
He argued that parliament has no power to change the law under “foreign pressure”.
The government’s lawyer told the court that no amendment will be introduced in parliament till the court’s final verdict is announced.
The blasphemy law introduced during the regime of late military ruler Zia-ul-Haq carries the death penalty for insulting Islam or Prophet Mohammed.
After a lower court in Punjab province sentenced Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman to death for committing blasphemy, top government officials have said the law needs to be amended to ensure that no one misuses it.
Rights and minority groups are campaigning for the amendment of the law, which they argue discriminates against religious minorities.
Religious Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti too recently hinted that changes would be made to the law.
Former Information Minister and ruling Pakistan People’s Party lawmaker Sherry Rehman has introduced a private bill in parliament to change the law.
Religious groups have angrily reacted to the moves to amend the law and hundreds of activists of the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party joined a rally in Islamabad yesterday and announced they would resist any attempt to repeal or change the blasphemy law.
In a related development, a bench of the Lahore High Court also barred the President or any other government functionary from pardoning Asia Bibi.
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