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Cardinal urges Pakistan to release Asia Bibi

The Christian mother of five was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 and sentenced to death

Alessandro Speciale, Vatican City
Vatican City

February 7, 2013

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A high-ranking Vatican prelate has written to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari asking for the release of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death under the country’s controversial blasphemy law.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, vice dean of the College of Cardinals, called for a “gesture of clemency” for Bibi, 42, who was sentenced in 2009 and has been jailed ever since.

He said Zardari’s pardon of Bibi would have “an enormous significance and would greatly promote dialogue and reconciliation between Muslims and Christians.”

He added: “In my long life, I have always worked to help Christians and Muslims live together as brothers, ever since Blessed John Paul asked me to organize the historical meeting for peace in Assisi on October 27, 1986.”

On that occasion, leaders from the world's religions met for the first time in St. Francis' hometown at the invitation of a pope.

“We can’t continue ignoring each other or, worse, fighting each other,” he concluded in the letter.

Cardinal Etchegaray’s is the latest appeal from the international community on behalf of Bibi, whose story has captured headlines since her detention and brought further scrutiny on Pakistan’s blasphemy legislation, which rights groups say is often used unjustly to settle political scores or target religious minorities.

In January, Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi appealed to the Pakistan government through the Italian embassy in Islamabad to release Bibi.

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