Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan

via http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Christian-woman-sentenced-to-death-for-blasphemy-in-Pakistan/articleshow/6909757.cms published on November 11, 2010

LAHORE: A Pakistani court has sentenced to death a Christian mother of five for blasphemy, the first such conviction of a woman and sparking protests from rights groups on Wednesday.

Asia Bibi, 45, was sentenced on Monday by a local court in Nankana district in Pakistan’s central province Punjab, about 75 kilometres (47 miles) west of the country’s cultural capital of Lahore.

Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy, but the case spotlights the Muslim country’s controversial laws on the subject which rights activists say encourages Islamist extremism in a nation wracked by Taliban attacks.

Asia’s case dates back to June 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields. But a group of Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim, she should not touch the water bowl.

A few days later the women went to a local cleric and alleged that Asia made made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. The cleric went to local police, who opened an investigation.

She was arrested in Ittanwalai village and prosecuted under Section 295 C of the Pakistan Penal Code, which carries the death penalty.

Sentencing her to hang, Judge Naveed Iqbal “totally ruled out” any chance that Asia was falsely implicated and said there were “no mitigating circumstances”, according to a copy of the verdict seen by AFP.

Husband Ashiq Masih, 51, told AFP that he would appeal her death sentence, which needs to be upheld by the Lahore high court, the highest court in Punjab, before it can be carried out.

“The case is baseless and we will file an appeal,” he said.

The couple have two sons and three daughters. Rights activists and minority pressure groups said it was the first time that a woman had been sentenced to hang in Pakistan for blasphemy, although a Muslim couple were jailed for life last year.

Human rights activists want the controversial legislation repealed, saying it is exploited for personal enmity and encourages Islamist extremism.

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