Pakistan: Christian mom sentenced to death

2010-11-11 22:42

Lahore - A Pakistani court has sentenced to death a Christian mother of five for blasphemy, the first such conviction of a woman and sparking protests from rights groups on Thursday.

Asia Bibi, 45, was sentenced on Monday by a local court in Nankana district in Pakistan's central province Punjab, about 75km west of the country's cultural capital of Lahore.

Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy, but the case spotlights the Muslim country's controversial laws on the subject which rights activists say encourages Islamist extremism in a nation wracked by Taliban attacks.

Asia's case dates back to June 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields. But a group of Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim, she should not touch the water bowl.

A few days later the women went to a local cleric and alleged that Asia made made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. The cleric went to local police, who opened an investigation.

She was arrested in Ittanwalai village and prosecuted under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries the death penalty.

Sentencing her to hang, Judge Naveed Iqbal "totally ruled out" any chance that Asia was falsely implicated and said there were "no mitigating circumstances", according to a copy of the verdict seen by AFP.


Husband Ashiq Masih, 51, told AFP that he would appeal her death sentence, which needs to be upheld by the Lahore high court, the highest tribunal in Punjab, before it can be carried out.

"The case is baseless and we will file an appeal," he said.

The couple have two sons and three daughters.

Rights activists and minority pressure groups said it was the first time that a woman had been sentenced to hang in Pakistan for blasphemy, although a Muslim couple were jailed for life last year.

Human rights activists want the controversial legislation repealed, saying it is exploited for personal enmity and encourages Islamist extremism.

"The blasphemy law is absolutely obscene and it needs to be repealed in totality," Human Rights Watch spokesperson Ali Dayan Hasan told AFP.

"It is primarily used against vulnerable groups that face social and political discrimination. Heading that category are religious minorities and heterodox Muslim sects," he said.

Misuse of law

Asked about Asia's case at a press conference in Islamabad on Thursday, visiting Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said he was unaware of the details but would raise the matter with Pakistan's minorities minister.

"The Italian position has always been against the death penalty," he told reporters. He said he raised the problems faced by Christian minorities during his talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

"I believe they should not misuse the law of blasphemy to discriminate against religious minorities and this is a point I share with my colleague - this is a key point for me."

Around three percent of Pakistan's population of 167 million is estimated to be non-Muslim.

Last July, two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous pamphlet critical of the Prophet Mohammed were shot dead outside a court in Punjab.

Pastor Rashid Emmanuel, 32, and his brother Sajjad, were killed as they left a court hearing in Faisalabad city, where hundreds of Muslim protesters had demanded they be sentenced to death.

  • Ixian - 2010-11-12 07:06

    Religious fanaticism clouds the mind and makes whole groups of people act like fools.

  • paballo.mogorosi - 2010-11-12 08:53

    it is only when you look at other religions that you realize that the believe in gods/s is ridiculous. we're victims of religion/s we are born into and we declare them the absolute 'truth'. faith/superstition will obviously dye out as we at the early stages of human life but till then ..

  • DeadWorld - 2010-11-12 09:29

    This makes me sick...

  • Lanfear - 2010-11-12 09:31

    This is truly appalling. Organised religion should be wiped from the face of the earth! Sure, only minorities are fanatics, but they seem to have the loudest voice. What a bloody joke on humanity!

  • Barry M - 2010-11-12 13:19

    This proves that the Muslim religion is not as tolerant as they would have you believe – if one speaks out against Jews or Christians we might just get a tad miffed but we don’t feel the need to hurl rocks and insults and death threats against those that have had a go at us – then again this just goes to show how backward, uneducated and insecure these people really are. A sad end to a people that was once great. In fact it was the Persians (Iranians) that gave us the art of distillation and the Shiraz cultivar.... and now all they have for us is that rat-faced, beady eyed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, always rabbiting on and foaming at the mouth about how he is going to change the face of the Middle East – what a tosser! What a sad indictment these religious radicals and fundamentalists are on modern man!

  • jarryd.junkin - 2010-11-12 14:26

    Another reason why religion and government should be seperate....

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