11/09/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Punjab: Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy

For the first time, a woman is sentenced to death in Pakistan for this kind of “offence”. The blasphemy law was introduced in 1986 by then Pakistani dictator Zia-ul Haq and since then it has become a tool for discrimination and violence. Part of the Pakistan Penal Code, the law imposes life in prison for defiling the Qur’an and death for insulting Muhammad.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Pakistan has “crossed a line” in sentencing a Christian woman to death for blasphemy. Asia Bibi, a 37-year-old farm worker mother of two, was convicted of committing blasphemy before her fellow workers during a heated discussion about religion in the village of Ittanwali in June last year.

Some of the women workers had reportedly been pressuring Bibi to renounce her Christian faith and accept Islam. During one discussion, Bibi responded by speaking of how Jesus had died on the cross for the sins of humanity and asking the Muslim women what Muhammad had done for them.

The Muslim women took offence and began beating Bibi. Afterwards she was locked in a room. According to Release International, a mob reportedly formed and “violently abused” her and her children.

The charity, which supports persecuted Christians, said that blasphemy charges were brought against Bibi because of pressure from local Muslim leaders.

Release International’s chief executive, Andy Dipper, expressed his shock at Sunday’s ruling.

“Pakistan has crossed a line in passing the death sentence on a woman for blasphemy,” he said.

In addition to the death sentence, Bibi was also fined the equivalent for an unskilled worker of two and a half years’ wages.

Another Christian woman, Martha Bibi (no relation to Asia), is also on trial in Lahore for blasphemy.

According to the National Commission on Justice and Peace (NCJP) of the Catholic Church, between 1986 and August 2009, at least 974 people have been charged for defiling the Qur’an or insulting the Prophet Muhammad. They include 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and 10 from other religions.

The blasphemy law has often been used as a pretext for personal attacks or vendettas as well as extra-judicial murders. Overall, 33 people have died this way at the hands of individuals or crazed mobs.

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