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Family waits to see if mother, accused of blasphemy, will be hanged

The town cleric, who made the initial complaint against Bibi, called her death sentence one of the happiest moments of his life. "Tears of joy poured from my eyes," Qari Salim told CNN. The clerics tears are in stark contrast to those shed by Bibi's daughter Isham, who wants her mother to live.

Itan Wali, Pakistan (CNN) — In this village in Pakistan’s Punjab province a tearful 12-year-old girl ponders if the Pakistani government will soon hang her mother.

“Whenever I see her picture I cry,” Isham Masih told CNN. “I want my mother back. That’s what I’m praying for.”

This month a Pakistani court sentenced Isham’s mother, 45-year-old Asia Bibi, to death, not because she killed, injured or stole, but simply because she said something.

Prosecutors say Bibi, who is a Christian, broke Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law by insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment according to Pakistan’s penal code.

The alleged incident happened in June 2009 when Bibi, a field worker, was picking fruit in a village two hours west of Lahore. Prosecutors say when Bibi dipped her cup into a bucket of drinking water during a lunch break, her co-workers complained the water had been contaminated by a non-Muslim.

Court records show the women got into a heated argument.

Mafia Satar said she was there and heard Bibi’s insults.

“She said your Muhammad had worms in his mouth before he died,” Satar told CNN, a crude way of saying Muhammad was no prophet.

The town cleric, Qari Muhammad Salim, reported the incident to police who arrested Bibi. After nearly 15 months in prison came her conviction and the death sentence.

“When I heard the decision my heart ached,” Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih told CNN.

Masih denies his wife ever insulted Muhammad. He said death threats forced him and his daughters, one of them disabled, to flee their village.

Neither the Koran nor the prophet Muhammad’s teachings in the Hadith call for the execution of blasphemers, but Islamic scholars and jurists from generations past included the death sentence when drafting Islamic law.

Human rights groups have long blamed Pakistan’s blasphemy laws for persecution and violence against religious minorities like last year’s attack on a Christian village in Punjab Province and recent bombings of minority Muslim mosques.

Activists say the government has refused to amend the law for fear of backlash from Islamist groups and their followers who deem scrapping the law as un-Islamic.

At the time this report was filed, Pakistan’s law minister had not responded to CNN’s request for an interview.

Bibi has appealed her death sentence and asked for bail, the chief prosecutor of Punjab province told CNN.

The prosecutor, Chaudhry Muhammad Jahangir, said the appeal will be heard by the Lahore High court and a decision could be months away.

Pakistan has never executed someone convicted of blasphemy but in Bibi’s village public opinion was unanimous.

“Yes, she should be hanged,” a group of villagers cried out.

The town cleric, who made the initial complaint against Bibi, called her death sentence one of the happiest moments of his life.

“Tears of joy poured from my eyes,” Qari Salim told CNN.

The clerics tears are in stark contrast to those shed by Bibi’s daughter Isham, who wants her mother to live.

Source: CNN

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  • Human rights group: death sentence for Asia Bibi highlights weaknesses in Pakistan justice system

    Following an international outcry against the death sentence given to Asia Bibi, a defendant convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan last week, CSW is urging the Government of Pakistan to address the “deeply-rooted problems” highlighted by this case, including “the continued abuse of the blasphemy laws and the underlying weaknesses in Pakistan’s justice system”.

    Spurious blasphemy accusations are increasingly common and relatively simple to register in Pakistan. At the trial stage, lower court judges are susceptible to manipulation and intimidation from local groups, meaning that even victims of patently false accusations can be forced to appeal and wait years for a High Court or Supreme Court acquittal. Nobody sentenced to death has yet been executed, but many await a decision in prison, such as Waji ul-Hassan, a Christian who has been on death row since 2002. In prison, blasphemy prisoners are at risk of violent abuse because of the stigma of the charge.

    CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “Asia Bibi should never have been charged with blasphemy in the first place and her sentence is a tragic reminder of the continued abuse of the blasphemy laws and the underlying weaknesses in Pakistan’s justice system. Deeply-rooted problems of prejudice, inefficiency, corruption, and under-resourcing are amplified in blasphemy cases, and even more so for religious minorities. As a prisoner, Asia Bibi’s experience behind bars is made worse by the fact that she is a Christian, a woman and a blasphemy defendant – each of which increases the likelihood of abusive treatment. Injustices of this kind will continue to occur until such time as the blasphemy laws are repealed and practical measures are taken to render the rule of law meaningful in Pakistan.”

  • Pakistan: People around the world signing petition to save Asia Bibi
    Lahore – “Asia Bibi is innocent. Saving her is not a political act, but a moral obligation towards all persecuted Christians,” wrote one reader. “The blasphemy law destroys coexistence and Pakistan’s development,” said another. They are but two of a long list of people who have signed the petition launched by AsiaNews on 15 November on behalf of Asia Bibi (pictured during her trial), the Christian woman sentenced to death in Punjab after she was falsely accused of blasphemy.

    So far, some 1,500 people have signed the appeal, which was picked up in Malaysia by the local Catholic weekly newspaper, the Herald. Individuals and news agencies elsewhere have also picked up the story and sent it around the world. Hundreds of messages are coming in from Spain and Latin America, but also Vietnam and China.

    Despite the dangers, various organisations like Justice and Peace have organised demonstrations in Pakistan. Various initiatives have also been undertaken to free the woman. Yesterday in Nankana (Punjab), hundreds of women, Christian and Muslim, demonstrated in front of government offices, demanding her immediate release.

    “The women of Pakistan are taking action: the case of Asia Bibi nags at our conscience. There is an urgent need to repeal the blasphemy law,” said Saman Wazdani, a Muslim and a human rights activist.

    For her, Pakistan’s entire legal system needs retooling. “Trial courts are left to themselves,” she explained. “They have old structures that are not transparent and they often interpret the law incorrectly. We urgently need a comprehensive judicial reform”.

    In the meantime, the Conference of the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), which represents about a third of all religious parties, said it was against repealing the blasphemy law.

    For the ulema, the law cannot be touched. Otherwise, they promise to take to the streets to demonstrate, violently if need be, should it be changed or corrected.

    Source: Asia News

  • Asia Bibi’s legal defense overseen by Pakistani Christians in the diaspora

    The Pakistani Christian community in the United Kingdom has taken up the case of Asia Bibi and is providing legal assistance for the woman. The Pakistani community in the United Kingdom has a population of over one million people of first-generation immigrants, including about 70,000 Christians.
    Despite the involvement of several Christian NGOs based in Pakistan – as well as the generous offer of some eminent Muslim lawyers like Muhammad Aslam Khaki – the case of Asia Bibi is being run today by the Masih Foundation led by Haroon Barket Masih, a wealthy Pakistani Christian who lives in the United Kingdom. The Foundation has assumed the defense of Asia and has chosen high profile lawyers who are overseeing the appeal in the High Court of Lahore. The Foundation also provides assistance to the relatives of the woman, who are now living in Lahore. As Fides has learned, in the coming days, the Masih Foundation will announce the details of the legal process and on their conversations with government officials, pending the first hearing before the High Court. The Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, note sources of Fides, “is a guarantee for the case of Asia,” as everyone expects the Court to allow new investigations on the case.
    The support of the Pakistani community in England has been seen in the British Pakistani Christian Association’s launching a petition to the British government for the release of Asia Bibi and the abolition of the blasphemy law. It has also announced a contribution of £25,000 to cover court costs and to provide a legal defense for Asia at the highest levels. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 19/11/2010)

  • Zardari stays execution of Christian woman
    Fri, Nov 19 09:05 PM
    Islamabad, Nov 19 (IANS) Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari Friday stayed the execution of a Christian woman who was sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy.

    The woman, Aasia Bibi, was given the death sentence by an additional sessions judge in Nankana Sahib district a week ago on charges of committing blasphemy under the Pakistan Penal Code.

    A religious leader of the local mosque, Qari Saleem, had lodged an FIR against Aasia Bibi for allegedly passing derogatory remarks against the last prophet of Muslims.

    The judge also imposed a fine of Rs.300,000 on her.

    Zardari Friday directed Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities, to submit a report within three days.

    S.K. Shahid, lawyer for the accused, had already challenged the verdict in the Lahore High Court.

    Meanwhile, the spokesman of the National Commission of Justice and Peace (NCJP), an NGO working for minority rights in Pakistan, said the proceedings of the case took place under intense pressure and the verdict was likely to be overturned in the high court.

    The case has drawn huge attention in the local media and there is deep sympathy for Aasia Bibi.

    Several NGOs have called for repealing the blasphemy law because it was ‘being used by illiterate masses in rural areas to hoodwink the minorities’.

    The blasphemy law was created during the regime of late military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s. With the passage of time, there has been increasing perception amongst the intelligentsia that it has done more harm than good.

    (Awais Saleem can be contacted at