I've mentioned the plight of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for blasphemy in two of my last 'friday prayers' segments.
Zenit reports today that she has been pardoned by the President of Pakistan and released from prison following an international outcry that included a specific plea on her behalf from the Pope.
The Zenit story goes on:
"At the conclusion of last Wednesday's general audience, Benedict XVI appealed for her freedom.
He mentioned the plight of Pakistani Christians in general, who along with Hindus make up only a 5% minority in the Muslim country. "In these days, the international community is following with great concern the difficult situation of Christians in Pakistan, who are often victims of violence and discrimination," the Holy Father said. Then he mentioned Bibi specifically: "Today I particularly express my spiritual closeness to Mrs. Asia Bibi and her family, asking that she be given full liberty as soon as possible. As well, I pray for those who find themselves in similar situations, so that their human dignity and fundamental rights be fully respected."
Human rights groups have long decried Pakistan's blasphemy laws as a means by which people take advantage of religious minorities.
It is reported that Bibi is now in hiding out of fear for her safety. There are precedents of those accused of blasphemy in Pakistan being killed by vigilantes."
According to the Wikipedia, between 1988 and 2005, Pakistani authorities charged 647 people with offences under the country's Sharia blasphemy laws. Fifty percent of the people charged were non-Muslim. Twenty of those charged were murdered soon after the charge was laid.
**This report has turned out to be premature: a court has ordered that her pardon not proceed pending the hearing of an appeal on her case. There are also moves afoot to change the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.