11/12/2010, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Asia Bibi’s conviction is an incitement to crime, says Justice and Peace official

Peter Jacob, secretary of the Church’s Justice and Peace Commission, said the death sentence is unjust, that it does not take into account how the law is being abused. Nazir Bhatti calls on the government to cancel the sentence as it has done in the past for some of terrorists.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – “The sentence against Asia Bibi is a veritable incitement to crime. There was never any insult to Islam in the case and the judge did not take into account how the blasphemy law is being abused. So he came down with a harsh sentence,” said Peter Jacob, secretary of the Church’s Justice and Peace Commission, as he spoke to AsiaNews about the death penalty inflicted on a 37-year-old female farm worker by a court in Punjab last Sunday. “We absolutely condemn this way of doing things; we call on the government to intervene and stop the law from being abused,” he added.

Asia Bibi, mother of two, is the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy. She has been in prison since last year.  The trial judge accepted the prosecutor’s contention that she insulted Muhammad in a heated discussion with colleagues. In fact, all she did was to object to her fellow workers’ name-calling (infidel) and their attempt to get her to renounce Christianity. For this, Asia was beaten and reported to police in Ittanwali (Punjab) who arrested her on false blasphemy charges.

For Nazir S. Bhatti, who heads the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), Asia’s case is a clear attack on inter-faith dialogue because she was sentenced to death for her comment on Muhammad, not for any insult to the prophet.

“According to the constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the president of Pakistan or the interior minister have the power to withdraw any case,” Bhatti said. “There are examples of cases of terrorism withdrawn by the government of Pakistan. Why then the Pakistani administration is silent on Asia Bibi’s sentence?”

“In Pakistan, some 2.8 million Christians are treated as second class citizens, whilst Islamic government feel no shame to release Muslim criminals and terrorists,” he said.

Yet, despite the authorities’ silence, many figures in Pakistan’s civil society, both Christians and Muslims, are mobilising on Asia Bibi’s behalf as well as calling for the repeal of the blasphemy law.

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