Cleric offers reward to kill Christian woman
Islamabad - A Pakistani Muslim cleric has offered a reward for killing a Christian woman sentenced to death for uttering derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, media reports said on Saturday.
Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, the prayer leader in Mohabat Khan mosque in Peshawar, the capital of militancy-plagued north-western Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, made the announcement during a protest rally on Friday.
"I will give 500 000 rupees ($5 890) to anyone who kills Asia Bibi," Qureshi was quoted as saying by the Daily Times. He also called on the Taliban to assassinate the woman since it was "a service to the religion".
Bibi was convicted last month by a court in Nankana Sahab, a district in the central province of Punjab, about 17 months after police arrested her on charges of blasphemy.
She pleaded not guilty, saying that she was wrongly accused after a brief scuffle with a group of Muslim women over a water bowl. The court sentenced her to hang.
Bibi's case has attracted international attention following a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XVI for her freedom. The Pakistani government is considering the possibility of pardoning Bibi, the first woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in the country.
But a court last week put the potential pardon on ice until December 6, when the court will hold the next hearing of a case filed against the government.
Islamist groups are also putting pressure on the government to keep Bibi in prison, and refrain from introducing any amendments to the controversial blasphemy laws.
Protest rallies were held in several cities and prayer leaders warned the government and anyone who supported people uttering blasphemous remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.
Pakistan has not yet executed anyone for blasphemy, but dozens are imprisoned on blasphemy charges, which many rights activists and lawyers said are used to settle personal disputes.