02/12/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christian woman accused of blasphemy without evidence still in prison

by Qaiser Felix
Martha Bibi, arrested on January 22, is in Kasur district prison. Police has not yet started their investigations whilst her family is still in hiding for fear of attacks by extremists.

Kasur (AsiaNews) – Martha Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy without evidence, is “still unlawfully detained in the Kasur district prison,” whilst her family “remains in hiding fearing attacks from the local Muslim community,” this according to Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA).

Local Muslims “are putting pressure on the judges. They are saying she cannot be released; otherwise she would be subject to people’s justice,” he added. “What is more, the situation of the local Christian community is going from bad to worse. Everyday, acts of discrimination and violence are inflicted on the few non Muslim families of Kasur.”

Martha Bibi, from the village of Kot Nanak Singh, was accused on January 22 of making disparaging remarks about the prophet Muhammad and insulting his sacred name. Her husband is a mason with a small building tools rental business that he runs with the help of his wife. They rented out tools to the company building the Sher Rabbani mosque, but the builders have not paid.

On the morning of January 22 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, where she was charged under 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 for anyone who insults the prophet and the sacred texts of Islam.

For APMA Chairman Bhatti, who has been following the case closely, there are various incongruities with the case.  First of all, “no investigations have been conducted prior to registering a FIR (First Information Report) neither from the alleged accused nor from the petitioner.” This “shows it is a concocted and baseless case and exposes the misuse of this law.” Moreover, “the complainant, Muhammad Dilbar was not present at the time of this incident and his deposition should not be taken into account.”

APMA “filed a complaint about these abuses and applied for Martha’s release on bail. Even then, she won’t be able to go home where she might be the target of extremists.”

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