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Asia

Death sentence puts Pakistan's blasphemy law in the spotlight

Pakistan's opinion makers are engaged in a heated debate about the country's blasphemy law after a 45-year-old Christian woman was sentenced to death.

Asia Bibi's family members are hoping for a presidential pardon

Asia Bibi's family members are hoping for a presidential pardon

Pakistan's blasphemy law has once again become a topic of heated discussion after the recent handing down of the death sentence to Asia Bibi.

The 45-year-old Christian woman was arrested in June last year after her neighbors complained that she had made derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammed.

Blasphemy and lynch justice

When it comes to blasphemy in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the law is clear - it is a crime punishable by death to speak ill of Islam and Prophet Mohammed.

Although hundreds have been convicted of blasphemy, nobody in Pakistan has ever been executed for the offence. Most convictions are retracted after the accused makes an appeal. However, angry mobs have killed people accused of blasphemy.

In July this year, two Christian brothers were gunned down in Faisalabad after being accused of writing a sacrilegious letter against the Prophet.

Fareed Ahmad Pracha from the Muslim movement Jamaat i Islami is an ardent defender of the blasphemy law. "We have false murder cases in our country, false witnesses and it is possible that a case may be wrong," he said. "

"We just want to say that the law should be enforced properly, there should not be any change made into the blasphemy law, we will not tolerate or accept this. If you make way even for a single change in the law, then there will be a number of changes, whereas there has never been a case where anyone has been punished."

There have been demonstrations for Asia Bibi all over the world, including in Pakistan

There have been demonstrations for Asia Bibi all over the world, including in Pakistan

Call for repeal of the law

Asia Bibi’s sentencing to death has triggered an outcry among human rights groups and the international community. Some Pakistani politicians have also called on the president to pardon Asia Bibi.

Bibi herself has said that she was involved in a dispute after some women laborers she was in the fields with said they would not drink water from the same bowl because she was not a Muslim. She says they slapped her and pulled her hair.

They apparently later went to the police and accused her of making derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammed.

Sisal Chaudhary, a local Christian leader in Pakistan, is angry about discrimination against the Christian minority in Pakistan. "Many innocent people have been killed," he pointed out.

"People who did not even have a case registered against them. How can you stop this? There is only one solution to this and that is for this law to be completely repealed. Many people have suffered, many settlements have been razed down because of this law, many people have spent 10 or 12 years in prison. It is wrong to say that no one has been really killed because of this law. Now they want to start hanging people but they have been killing people for a long time."

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for minority affairs, has now been commissioned by President Asif Ali Zardari to look into the case. A Christian himself, he has said it was a personal dispute and Asia Bibi did not commit blasphemy. He is due to submit the findings of his report on Wednesday.

Author: Manasi Golapakrishnan
Editor: Anne Thomas

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