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Pakistan leader soon to review death sentence

By Reza Sayah, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Christian woman in Pakistan is facing death
  • She is accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed
  • The president will review a petition to free her

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's president will soon review a petition to free a Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed, a senior Pakistani government official told CNN on Saturday.

Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer said Asia Bibi signed her petition for mercy on Saturday when he visited her at the prison where she's been jailed for nearly 15 months. Taseer said he will now personally submit the petition to President Asif Ali Zardari.

"I want to send a strong message that we are here for the protection of minorities," Taseer told CNN. "We don't want them to be targeted by these kind of laws."

Earlier this month, a Pakistani court convicted Asia of breaking the country's controversial blasphemy law, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan's penal code.

Prosecutors say the 45-year-old field worker insulted the Prophet Mohammed after she got into a heated argument with her Muslim co-workers who refused to drink from a bucket of water she had touched.

In a brief news conference at the prison where she's being held, Asia sat next to Taseer and said the allegations against her were lies, fabricated by a group of women who didn't like her.

"We had some differences and this was their way of taking revenge," Asia Bibi said.

"The allegation against me is baseless. I never said derogatory remarks against Mohammed."

She added that "Mohammed is the last prophet and we believe in him."

Asia's death sentence sparked outrage among human rights groups who condemned Pakistan's blasphemy law as a source of violence and persecution against religious minorities.

Activists say Pakistani lawmakers have refused to repeal the law for fear of a backlash by Islamist groups and their followers who deem removing the law as un-Islamic.

"We don't support this law," Taseer told CNN, "but we are in a coalition government and we have to get everyone on board to make any changes."