An instrument of abuse?

Published Nov 26, 2010 03:18pm

The death sentence handed down to Pakistani Christian woman Aasia Bibi by a court in Punjab province’s Nankana district has once again brought attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. And while the 45-year-old mother of five awaits a review of the verdict against her, questions are being raised regarding the intent behind and utility of the said laws.

While the Constitution of Pakistan criminalises “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage” the religious sentiments of “any” community, the blasphemy laws, in the form of additions to Sections 295 and 298 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), proceed to recommend much more exacting penalties, including death, if the accused is found to be either disrespectful toward or critical of the Quran, Prophet Mohammad, Islam’s caliphs and other important figures mentioned in the statutes. These particular laws therefore do not stand up for religions other than Islam thereby rendering defenceless other religious communities. Moreover, the laws’ provisions pertaining to the Ahmedi community in many ways constrain them from practicing their religion. Forbidden from calling themselves, or “posing” as, Muslims, the legislation makes abundantly clear, albeit circuitously, that their faith should not be what it is.

It was in the early 1980s and during the regime of former military dictator Ziaul Haq that committing blasphemy was made a penal offence under the PPC. In its current state, the law prescribes a jail term for anyone found disrespectful toward the Quran and death penalty for anyone found to be reproachful of Prophet Mohammad. Oddly enough, while the question of intent is not considered when it comes to the latter offence, it continues to remain punishable by nothing short of the death penalty. The blasphemy laws also prescribe a fine and a prison term with regard to penal offences associated with the Ahmedi community.

Having survived for nearly three decades in its current and extreme form, the blasphemy laws have so far escaped all reform due to opposition from religio-political groups. At the same time, other, essentially secular, political groups have been succumbing to these hardline forces mostly out of fear of losing clout in regions with conservative leanings and where religious organisations seem to enjoy a considerable degree of influence. Even at this point, with the international community ramping up pressure on the government to pardon Aasia and to eventually repeal the blasphemy laws, certain otherwise antagonistic clerics from the Barelvi and Deobandi schools of thought have come together to caution President Asif Ali Zardari over going ahead with the pardon saying the move may lead to “untoward repercussions”.

While the sentencing of Aasia has led to much international uproar, hers is just one of the many cases which have led to blasphemy convictions by the courts. Moreover, many of the blasphemy accused – mostly from the unprotected religious minority groups – have been targeted and sometimes killed by lynch mobs. The still recent killing of two Christian brothers in Faisalabad, the case of Zaibunnisa who remained incarcerated for 14 long years on blasphemy allegations and the violence that targeted Christians in Gojra in 2009 are just some of the recently reported instances which clearly depict how such laws have effectively abandoned the country’s religious minorities and emboldened extremists.

These and similar other incidents have inevitably led to questions pertaining to the rationale behind the laws as well as to their outcome in terms of greater social good. And while the laws are frequently used to blackmail and victimise Pakistan’s miniscule religious minorities, they also come in handy by those wanting to settle personal scores, sort business rivalries and tackle land disputes with other Muslims. Rights groups have continually demanded that the laws be repealed and have referred to the statutes as fundamentally unjust and discriminatory in nature.

Moreover, legal experts and analysts have frequently termed the text of the laws as vague and even flawed in ways that make it a ready instrument of abuse. Incompatible with the universally accepted human rights charter, the laws and their application also stand in clear violation of the Constitution of Pakistan which guarantees every citizen the “right to profess, practice and propagate” his/her religion and in fact forbids the state from making “any law which takes away” the citizens’ fundamental rights.

Given the fact that the blasphemy laws have only served to fuel disharmony and strife in society, a thorough review of the legislation, followed by significant changes to it, can be the first small step toward countering the culture of exploitation that has become all-too-synonymous with these laws.

Qurat ul ain Siddiqui is the Desk Editor at Dawn.com

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Comments (82) Closed




A Khan
Nov 27, 2010 09:14am
Very good suggestion, the street needs to be cleaned and special need people should get the help from these people. I will also add that they should go and teach people Arabic and how to read and write to make them better Muslims and citizens of Pakistan.
A Khan
Nov 27, 2010 09:16am
@Hasan, what you have said is perfectly right.
Akhtar Khan
Nov 27, 2010 09:55am
I do not see why the existence of 5 kids should be mentioned. If she has committed a crime she must bear the consequences. Aafia Siddiqui's children were abducted with her and have been suffering atrocities for years, and the people are silent. She had committed no crime.
A Khan
Nov 27, 2010 09:03am
The problem here is not that something is wrong with the law. The problem is with the mentality of people. I am in favour of this law but it should be modified and reformed. Second, we should educate our people about each other's religions so that extremist groups don't take advantage of people's sentiments. Third, people should understand to respect each other's religious views. We should love everyone and that is teaching to Islam and Prophet Mohammad.
maqsood
Nov 27, 2010 10:10am
if we study the personality Hazart Mohammad PBUH, then Blasphemy law must be repealed from the constitution, He was the greatest example of the World and always believed in forgiveness, but His so called followers exploiting the true image of Islam. Pakistan is already facing bad name in the world but now it sees Muslim world would also distance from us, what Pakistan is doing in fact amending the true ideology of Islam. Being a Muslim i am ashamed to live in such country where people dont have the values of human beings.
Akhtar Khan
Nov 27, 2010 10:04am
Another thing worth mentioning. Nobody is waiting for her to be hanged, the attempt to have her pardoned has brought out all the religiously inclined people. They are not extremists.
Indian
Nov 27, 2010 09:04am
Pakistan is an Islamic republic and India is a secular republic. let's keep it that way lest we forget why we divided united India..
Akhtar Khan
Nov 27, 2010 09:08am
Your first two statements are beyond any doubt the basis of a system. But your next sentence is totally incorrect. Can you please elaborate on "the law is biased and discriminatory" so that we can have a discussion? The next phrase is admission of hearsay.
Hindu
Nov 27, 2010 08:44am
Do you mean to say " educate" in the same way someone's Hindu ancestors were educated by the Turks and Arabs? He he!!
Syed A Zafar U.S.A
Nov 27, 2010 08:56am
The writer's point of view is not only based on honest research work but also it exposes those anti Pakistan, anti Islam and anti humanity forces whose bad influences on our society are no more hidden secrets. Favoring such anti humanity laws because the majority in Pakistan seem to want it, is hypocrisy in my opinion. The notion of majority or minority is itself a conspiracy against humanity. Anybody who is born in Pakistan or became a citizen and has no proven anti state record must be given equal opportunity and the right to choose and practice the faith and beliefs he or she wants. Of course we need a law which can punish those culprits who are hurting others on the basis of their religion, beliefs and ethnic background. But blasphemy laws in their current form do not play that positive role. Why wouldn't someone take a SUO MOTU of hate crimes that these laws have led to. Or does no one have any interest in this issue. What about fairness? what happened to the army of lawyers who played "justice for all song? and what happened to those leaders assurances who swore and guaranteed that that there will be peace and prosperity in the country and every body will be served with justice? There has been enough talk about it. Do the organs of the state have the guts to set aside the politics and take this moral call to stand up against this discriminatory blasphemy laws and say no to fanatics? I have a message for those politicians and legislatures who are scared and compelled to please the extremist mafia in Pakistan that no matter how much you bend to earn their blessings they will keep haunting and asking you to do more till you are paralyzed. terrorism/extremism, sectarian clashes and hate crimes will never end until the following steps are taken: 1. Ban, dismantle and root out the extremist groups even if they take a political cover. Those who assist, promote and financially support them locally or externally must be punished and boycotted. It is of no use catching or banning small groups of extremists. 2. Repeal discriminatory laws in their entirety and close certain institutions because they are being used to interpret and impose discriminatory laws against minorities and in favor of certain dominant extremist parties. 3. The national assembly must repeal laws which can be viewed as government sponsored religious persecution and terrorism must be put to an end. People must be allowed to pray, preach and practice their faith and believe freely -- this is what the fundamental rights section of our constitution says.. 4. The last but the most important step needed to be taken by our governments, institutions, religious and political leaders and the intellectuals to hold constant town hall meetings in our villages, schools and institutions to educate our masses and the mind sets in order to promote peace, harmony and love among all faiths and cultures. Repealing the blasphemy laws alone and not educating our masses is like treating the symptoms not the cause. We need to give freedom to our masses by setting them mentally free from the extremist mafia.
Hindu
Nov 27, 2010 08:48am
I see Kashmiri, what your direction of thought is and what you are capable of doing with all the Buddhists and Hindus in the valley once you get more ' freedom'.
sharma
Nov 27, 2010 08:34am
Also mind you, you English speaking and reading Pakistani Muslims who call yourself modern are a minority. You and your pop music and fashion shows in Karachi and Punjabi music will all be banned.
Waqar
Nov 27, 2010 04:03am
why death penalty? I mean it is bad if someone does not respect Islam, but death is not the solution. Instead of giving death sentence why don't we Muslims try to educate her and her people?
Hindu
Nov 27, 2010 08:42am
Zaid Haimd cries about India's Dalits all the while forgetting that Arabs treat south Asian muslims as second class people.
sharma
Nov 27, 2010 08:30am
I think Pakistan is justified to have blasphemy laws. Else if even it becomes secular republic then it will have existential dilemmas as to what was wrong with the united India. In my opinion the whole purpose of Pakistan is to have a country for Sunni Muslims.
Mohammad Aziz Khan in Sydney Australia @ Viti (Fiji)
Nov 27, 2010 08:22am
Is there no love, mercy and forgiveness in religion? Were the sacrifices of animals not enough that now some people are demanding the blood of a woman (innocent or not). what a shame!!
Akhtar Khan
Nov 27, 2010 10:08am
Agreed, but the duty of cleaning the streets and helping the handicapped is everybody's, with the government being most obligated.
ashraf mirza
Nov 27, 2010 06:06am
Very nice ArticLe Qurat Ul Ain.........thanks.. It's very sad, that mother of 5 kids has been in jail last 18 months, she didn't kill any one, didn't hurt any one, can u imagine what family is going through.I dont think any one cares. Extremists are waiting for her to be hanged. I have an idea extremists have lots of free time so maybe they should get on the street and clean the streets all over Pakistan, help the handicap in transportation and visit sick people and pray for them ..then people will respect them
Pervaze
Nov 27, 2010 07:04am
In the caves of China and North Korea
Mansoor Ahmed Noon
Nov 27, 2010 07:06am
A society cannot sustain without justice. Justice is the prime priority to run any system or society. but the law is biased and discriminatory, some people say it was a compromise to extremist forces of Pakistan.
Syed Nizamuddin
Nov 27, 2010 06:09am
This is a good explanation. "There has been NO single person executed under this law ever since its been made." At the same time the fanatics are allowed to take law into their own hands thereby killing the "blasphemous" minority. The only thing for a minority family in such a case is either to get converted to Islam to avoid such laws or flee the country, which is not possible for all. Please do not forget that the color of blood is red for a majority as well as minority. If a correct decision is not taken now, it may become too late. Just think.
rich05
Nov 27, 2010 06:03am
this law just goes to show insecurity. if we followed the same law in india, the law in india would pass a death sentence against M F Hussain. some groups protested against him, but even under pressure the govt of india did not arrest him, and the govt his still asking him to come back to india and they will protect him.. what will happen to a lot of muslims if the world followed similar laws everywhere.
Raj Muthusamy
Nov 27, 2010 01:33am
No one person should have the right to impose his will on another until the later creates disharmony for society. Making blasphemy into laws will only be used as an instrument to discriminate people.
Mustafa
Nov 27, 2010 05:12am
Any law has potential of abuse, that does not mean we should become a lawless society. Of course care should be exercised to see no innocent person is punished. The extreme punishment should be reserved for those who commit it in a premeditated and planned fashioned. Words uttered at the spur of a moment don't deserve the extreme punishment.
amarakbarantony
Nov 28, 2010 03:05am
why can't any muslim majority country be secular barring a few exceptions?
Zainy
Nov 27, 2010 03:05am
This is a horrible law brought on this country by a military dictator to please extremists. But the problem is how to convince people of Pakistan many of whom are for such laws.
Shireen
Nov 28, 2010 02:33am
This sets a bad precedent for Muslims around the world. More muslims live in Christian dominated regions than vice versa. Every time they enact an anti-islamic law and people protest, the governments will point towards Pakistan and use that as an excuse. Laws like this will just lead to more suspicion and hatred towards even innocent muslims. Stop this madness.
Anwar
Nov 30, 2010 10:28am
do not compare what is here and there these are two different places
Hasan
Nov 27, 2010 05:36am
Blasphemy law is an amenity provided by the state for anyone to settle their contentions. The law is man-made, derived from another intolerant imperial law not from the Holy Scriptures. Islam is a peaceful and tolerant religion. Practice of such laws in an Islamic state and labeling them Islamic has hurt the cause of Islam and Pakistan.
Anwar
Nov 30, 2010 10:32am
Yes but we did not use it like US did and will do again if in trouble
laloos
Nov 27, 2010 12:19pm
third class
Hasan
Nov 27, 2010 02:55am
It is very sad to see that 'major' fractions of Pakistani Muslims backing the blasphemy law. I had a debate with a fellow Pakistani Muslim about it, and it ended up me being dubbed as a liberal and foreign agent. All I did was explain that the law isn't based on Islam. I challenge anyone who is for these laws to give me evidence if in the reign of the Prophet or Khilafat-e-Rashida, someone was punished, let alone killed. The so-called clergy in Pakistan has pushed the nation into darkness, and they continue to fall in deeper and deeper into it.
The Game Changer
Nov 27, 2010 02:08am
I believe educating such offenders about religion, instead of death penalty, will make them respect our values. Beyond this I don't think anything else must be done. We have 3% non- muslims in our country, and I think they should be given as much space as the muslims in the pakistani society. As far as the religio-political groups are concerned, they even attack people who do not belong to their school of thought, condemn education for women and what not; it is because of people like these pakistan has not been able to scale the heights that it should have in the last 60 years. Also ..I may not be a devout muslim, but I honestly have not read anywhere that religion calls for a death penalty for this. If it is the fanatics that are to be held responsible for such a law, i strongly feel, whoever sits in the parliament, must grow a pair and tell the fanatics to keep their paws out of the constitution.
Avanti
Nov 27, 2010 11:38pm
Following the same logic, if someone named Mohammad or Khan gets in trouble at some airport in the US, why should he complain? At home, you will give a death penalty to some poor minority woman, but outside, you want the world to give you a special treatment because you're a minority.
kashmiri
Nov 27, 2010 01:18am
Even calling the freedom in indian occupied kashmir is dealt with public safety act. Where is your freedom of expression then. Whosoever commits blasphemy(irrespective of religion) should be dealt under the law. freedom of expression does not mean insulting other religions. Yes the method of legal process should be flawless so that injustice is not done to innocents.
Asad
Nov 27, 2010 05:29am
I think we Pakistanis are the only stone age people with nuclear power. May be our nuclear technology was discovered in a cave or something :)
sanu
Nov 30, 2010 05:01am
Lets get rid of the blasphemy laws
Tahir Rizvi
Nov 27, 2010 09:54pm
I fully endorse and support Mr. Syed A Zafar
Pradeep
Nov 26, 2010 09:28pm
By harmony of course you mean the fact that every member of the minority lives in fear that the majority may accuse them on any flimsy charge and put them in jail.
joe
Nov 26, 2010 10:03pm
stone age rules for stone age people. Grow up pakistan !
Saleem
Nov 26, 2010 06:16pm
"this law is for harmony" are you serious? are you awaiting eagerly for someone to be executed? i am sure you cannot see people getting terrorized by these laws and their lives getting uprooted. you also cannot see people who were forced to leave their homeland where they have lived for generations just because of being terrorized by mobs in name of religion & sect? laws are to protect citizens not to be used as blackmailing tactic.
brighton rodeo
Nov 26, 2010 09:52pm
Dear Editor, 295PPC&298PPC clearly violate the ethics of islamic doctrine as I understand. I am from Pakistan and went to school with muslims , worked among muslims and lived among muslims. There was a tiny segment of muslim society who was looking for this kind of instrument to harass minorities. This was introduced with an intent to scare non-muslims by the dictator with the help of his inner circle of extremist associates. Any sensible muslim friends will not approve it but will also not oppose it because of its repercussions. Those muslims who are fair minded and live in this world should start opposing it rather than be timid people because of repercussions.
Hassan Parvez
Nov 26, 2010 08:09pm
When educated people like some commenting here consider the laws as not discriminatory, what I can say for the majority of Pakistanis who are exploited by so-called religious leaders. This law has no place in a civilised society.
Aks
Nov 26, 2010 12:21pm
I believe that all these kinds of laws are barbaric and not suitable for today's world. Freedom of speech must be held in high regard for a society which wants to progress. All those who support these laws (hypocrites) would definitely not be happy if subjected to the same standards in non-Muslim countries.
Nabila Bhatti
Nov 26, 2010 07:40pm
People in Pakistan are not inclined to insult each others religion. There is no need of these discriminatory laws. And those endorsing and using these laws are destabilising the country. They are creating hatred among citizens of Pakistan and are defaming Pakistan internationally. If "There has been NO single person Executed under this law ever since its been made." and those people were innocent then who is responsible for the miseries of affected individuals, their families and the communities. Many people have given their lives because of this drama. Extra judicial killings, life threats and burning of villages are creating no harmony.
Taha
Nov 26, 2010 01:41pm
Why aren't similar laws available to protect other religions? Are other communities to simply take leave of Pakistan? Where is the religion's equality in this law?
Paul Simons
Nov 26, 2010 07:21pm
Why are people so narrow minded and lack the ability to behave decently towards people of other faiths. So backward and uncivilized! but everytime you say this you are told its a minority. I think Pakistan is a nation of armchair patriots and religious bigots.
J.R. Norway
Nov 27, 2010 04:59pm
It is totally wrong and against all human rights to judge people because they have different faith or belief.
Sane Indian
Nov 26, 2010 06:02pm
It is clearly a law to discriminate non-Muslims in Pakistan and it should be repealed immediately. It creates bad blood between communities by creating a feeling among minorities that they are second class citizens in their own country.
Shashank
Nov 28, 2010 03:35am
I believe this law must be repealed altogether. If your faith is unshakeable no matter what others say it should not affect you. This does not mean that it is ok to say bad things about any faith but why muslims need this protection ? when in minority muslims want secularism and live complaining and when in majority they leave no room for even breathing for other faiths. You can punish those living in Pakistan what about those like the Pastor in USA who had threatened to set holy Quran on fire ? There is varying degree of discrimination against minorities all over the world but at least it should not be sanctioned by the law.
Imran
Nov 27, 2010 05:54pm
I think author has very rationally analyzed whole situation and dealt with this issue on base of logic and case history. and thatss how people and government should go through it and be solution oriented. argument and anger will take us no where friends and we should have compassion
mehmoona
Nov 27, 2010 05:37pm
So by killing Aasia Pakistan will become a better country and the muslims of the country better muslims...? let's never forget that life is the biggest gift from God and we owe it all the respect whether it is that of a minority or poor person. any law that deals with this issue has to be seriously considered ..we as humans have i believe evolved to higher cerebral level and can deal with problems besides resorting to killing all the time
Arun Kapoor
Nov 27, 2010 05:56pm
Why learn Arabic ? Will learning Arabic make the Arabs treat you equals ?
Philip Simon
Nov 27, 2010 05:04pm
If this law is not repealed, soon a judge might pronounce death sentence for all non muslims not only in Pakistan but in the rest of the world too. Won't you be happy Akthar?
Akhtar Khan
Nov 27, 2010 01:30pm
Can you please enlighten us with your understanding as to why the two violate the ethics of Islam?
Kamran
Nov 26, 2010 05:29pm
It is not the law that should be repealed. It is the mechanism that should be made so fool proof that there is no ambiguity and injustice to any one.
Philip Simon
Nov 27, 2010 04:35pm
Do you feel the same when it come to other religions too? Are you going to educate all your people at Gojra and Faisalabad?
Saima
Nov 26, 2010 12:15pm
Great read. Well said.
Philip Simon
Nov 27, 2010 04:24pm
How come you are so sure that Asia has commited a crime and Afia did not? That itself shows how you discriminate between the two!!!! You will feel the pinch only when all the other nations world wide follow the example of Pakistan and create new law to hang the minorities.
Junajaman
Nov 26, 2010 11:24am
Nice analysis Qurat.....Way to go.
Vince
Nov 27, 2010 03:22pm
You wouldn't have nuclear technology except for the fact you stole it.
IndiMuslim
Nov 26, 2010 10:53am
Even if we abide by a strict implementation of anti-blasphemy laws,the person making accusation of blasphemy must be 'medically sane,mature,and reliable'.Now,how exactly does a country judge who exactly is honest/reliable and who is not?I am sure that had the Sahaba/Tabieen(immediate followers of Prophet Muhammad-upon him be peace) been alive,they would have held most of us to be poor in faith and in matters of reliability. Anyway I don't believe every allegation of blasphemy or even adultery is true;so lets temporarily suspend death penalties for these crimes,and re-study the scriptures to understand their utility in a modern context.
Haseeb
Nov 26, 2010 11:11am
These laws are not discriminatory. Misuse of a law does not necessarily means that you should repeal that law. There has been NO single person Executed under this law ever since its been made. The problem is "people" who try to take law into their own hands. otherwise the law's motive was to create religious harmony among people from different religions.
G.A.
Nov 26, 2010 05:00pm
The least the govt could do is to threaten the accusers with a heavy penalty if they cannot prove the allegations.
Keti Zilgish
Nov 26, 2010 03:50pm
a referendum is the only solution
Nasar
Nov 26, 2010 01:05pm
very rational and well put .. Kudos to sanity
Salman
Nov 26, 2010 02:57pm
Bringing religion into politics is Mistake No 1. Look at what that has done to our country - it is rife with extremism and violence, and development is at a standstill... Long live peace! Long live Pakistan!
subhan basha
Nov 26, 2010 02:39pm
Any person or institution which does not appreciate criticism or analysis will not survive for long
ghalzai
Nov 26, 2010 01:50pm
Thanks for raising the awarness.
Shoaib
Nov 26, 2010 01:12pm
i agree
Pradeep
Nov 27, 2010 02:19pm
I may not be the right person to respond as I do not have the full knowledge of the law but... biased - as it only discusses about insults to Islam and not other religions. Now you might say that it does but it does not specify explicit punishment for insult of other religions. discriminatory - It segregates Muslims and non-Muslims/blaspheming Muslims in the eyes of the state which is unwarranted.
Akhtar Khan
Nov 27, 2010 01:37pm
LOL. We are talking about what is happening, not about what can happen in your warped mind.
A Khan
Nov 28, 2010 12:58pm
So that they understand their religion better and extremists dont take advantage of their ignorance.
J.R. Norway
Nov 28, 2010 01:52pm
There are many from Pakistan here in Norway, and they can practice their religion in peace without being attacked by the Christians here. We respect that their religion is little different from ours. And also the other religions can practice their faith in freedom. I hope Pakistan will do the same to their own citizens.
Gilliana of Oz
Nov 28, 2010 01:54pm
In Asia case the nine other Muslim women labourers were believed for what they said and not the Christian woman; It could have been an orchestrated mischief from the nine against one that becomes defenceless. To confer death is nothing short of hate.
Gilliana of Oz
Nov 28, 2010 02:14pm
Islamic laws are made by the Sharia through the teachings of the Quran. If you dispute what brighton rodeo says then you agree that the blasphemy laws abide by Quranic teachings. This is not true. This is a man made law. The vast majority of Pakistan are honourable and sympathetic and you can witness the comments on this blog that Pakistanis are opposed to violence against their fellowmen.
Waqar
Nov 29, 2010 07:02am
Well do not know anything about Turks, Arabs and Hindu ancestors and their educations. What I only know that we should spread a lesson of peace, a lesson of bareness.
Omer Farooq
Dec 02, 2010 06:01pm
TOTALLY AGREED.
Omer Farooq
Dec 02, 2010 06:22pm
Their discrimination cannot be used as an exuse for our's. the method of legal process should be flawless so that injustice is not done to innocents. are u joking or something or maybe u live on mars. Over here we dont have a valid legal process leave alone flawless.
Omer Farooq
Dec 02, 2010 06:36pm
now thats hillarious again.
Omer Farooq
Dec 02, 2010 06:37pm
Agreed!
Kashan
Dec 02, 2010 04:38pm
I meant, she should be pardoned and PROTECTED if she has apologized