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Bibi, the Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy, contravenes Pakistan’s constitution and should be withdrawn immediately, an international human rights organisation Watch has said.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.
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.