01/26/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Another Christian imprisoned for “blasphemy”

by Qaiser Felix
Following an altercation, a man who owed money to a Christian woman accuses her of insulting the prophet Muhammad, an offence that also carries the death penalty. She was taken into custody by the police. Minority rights group blames Islamic extremists for using the law to strike at religious minorities or anyone who dare oppose them.

Kasur (AsiaNews) – Martha Bibi, a Christian woman from Kot Nanak Singg (Kasur district), was accused on January 22 of making derogatory remarks about the prophet Muhammad and defiled his sacred name, Shahbaz Bhatti said.

Mr Bhatti, head of the Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA), explained that the woman, her husband and their six children live along with other 12 Christian families in an area inhabited by some 500 Muslim families. The husband is a bricklayer and rents out construction equipment with his wife’s help. They recently rented out some tools for the construction of the Sher Rabbani mosque, but the builders have failed to pay.

Last Monday morning Martha Bibi went to the construction site to collect the money but was refused. So she asked the equipment be returned and tried to retrieve it, but Muhammad Ramzan, Mohammad Akram and Muhammad Dilbar started beating her. Only the action of passer-byes enabled her to get away.

Later that night the mosque’s imam accused Martha of uttering blasphemous words about the prophet Muhammad and incited Muslims to attack Christians. Martha and her family fled to neighbours to hide. However, the police eventually came and arrested her. She was taken to the Changa Manga police station.

She was charged with violating Section 295 C of Pakistan’s Penal Code, better known as the blasphemy law, a law that provides for long prison terms as well as the death penalty.

Police opened a file on the woman after receiving a formal complaint from Muhammad Dilbar.

As soon as the APMA found out what happened, it intervened and sent someone to meet Martha Bibi. Prison officials were contacted to be made aware of possible violence against the woman given the charges.

In a press release, the APMA appealed yesterday to the chief judge of the Supreme Court to intervene against the abusive use of the blasphemy law and called on the government to change the rules since they are used by extremists to persecute religious minorities or anyone who gets in their way. In its appeal, the APMA said that a judicial commission should be set up to review all such cases and all those who are patently innocent like Martha Bibi should be released immediately.

In a press briefing in Paris on Tuesday Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, secretary general of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q, said that the blasphemy law will be changed after next elections.

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