By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife at BosNewsLife News Center with BosNewsLife Asia Service
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife)– Relatives of a Pakistani Christian mother sentenced to death for “insulting” Islam’s Prophet Muhammad have filed an appeal against her conviction, BosNewsLife established Monday, November 15.
The appeal comes after a lower court in the town of Nankana, around 75 kilometers (45 miles) from the city of Lahore in Punjab province, sentenced 45-year-old Asia Bibi to death for blasphemy.
Bibi was also slapped with a fine of about $3,500 in local currency, trial observers said.
In a ruling issued November 7 the court accepted the prosecution version that Bibi had made derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad, charges her family denies. “We have never ever insulted the Prophet Muhammad or Islamic scripture, and we will contest the charges in the higher courts,” said her husband Ashiq Masih, who is a field laborer.
Among other allegations, Asia was accused of denying the prophet-hood of Prophet Muhammad, explained her lawyer, S. K. Shahid, in published remarks. However, “How can we expect from a non-Muslim to follow [a] belief of Muslims,?” Shahid added.
Masih explained that his wife was accused of blasphemy after getting into an argument last year with a group of women while fetching drinking water. He told reporters that the other women challenged his wife saying it was “sacrilegious” to drink water collected by a non-Muslim. “My wife took offense, saying, ‘Are we not humans?’ This led to an altercation,” Masih said.
The actual complaint was lodged five days after the incident, when local clerics raised the issue with police, he added. She has been detained since June 19, 2009, according to Pakistani Christians.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws stipulate that defaming the Islamic prophet Muhammad punishable by death or life imprisonment. Critics say Muslim radicals have used the law to repeatedly incite violence against Christians, other religious minorities and even Muslims.
YEARS IN JAIL
Bibi’s case come just months after the Lahore High Court released a woman held without trial for 14 years on allegations of desecrating the Koran, deemed a holy book by Muslims.
Despite “no evidence” being found against 60-year-old Zaibunnisa, she had been left to languish in the prison section of a mental hospital since 1996, the court said in July. Zaibunnisa’s family did not challenge her detention, according to her defense lawyer Aftab Ahmad Bajwa.
In published remarks, Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Khawaja Mohammad Sharif, said he “has ordered the release of Zaibunnisa after no evidence was found against her.” The chief justice reportedly expressed his dismay over “keeping the woman confined for so long without any trial.”
Zaibunnisa was detained in the town of Rawat, near Islamabad, after a local resident filed a complaint at a police station that someone had desecrated the Koran, defense lawyer Bajwa told media. Bajwa said Zaibunnisa’s name was not even mentioned in the police complaint.
“Nobody, not even her relatives, pursued the case. She was sent to jail and then forgotten by everyone,” said Bajwa, who took up her case last year.
POLICE ACTING ALONE
Complainant Qari Mohammad Hafeez told reporters at the hearing that he had not specified anyone by name in his submission and that police had arrested Zaibunnisa of their own accord, Pakistani media reportedly.
Pakistan’s government has come under mounting national and international pressure to overturn blasphemy laws in the predominantly Islamic nation.
Although no one is known to have been sent to the gallows for the crime of blasphemy, religious extremists have attacked and killed several accused in custody. Two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous pamphlet were shot dead in July outside a court in Faisalabad.
Human rights groups also say that blasphemy charges have also triggered deadly riots. In August 2009, a Muslim mob reportedly killed 11 Christians following a false allegation of the desecration of the Koran in Gorja, Pakistan.