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Inmates kill ‘koran burning’ woman

Aug. 25, 2003 • Friday August 29, 2003

A Muslim woman in jail on blasphemy charges after allegedly burning a copy of Islam‘s holy book was beaten to death by fellow inmates according to her lawyer. Jail officials today said she died of heart failure.

Naseem Bibi, 45, died last night in a hospital in Lahore’s Kotlakhpat jail in Punjab province, said Pervez Aslam, her lawyer.

“It seems she was beaten and tortured by fellow prisoners because she was suspected of blasphemy against Islam,” Aslam said. He has demanded an inquiry. A jail official confirmed Bibi’s death but said doctors blamed heart failure.

“Doctors in their initial findings say that the woman died of a heart attack,” said Noor Hassan, the jail’s deputy superintendent.

Aslam said Bibi had complained of beatings by fellow inmates and jail staff when he last met her on August 19. The prison did not comment on the accusations.

Bibi and her two teenage sons were arrested in May 2002 after a neighbour told police the family set fire to a copy of the Koran, which she denied, Aslam said. All three were in prison awaiting trial on blasphemy charges, which carry the death penalty.

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been sharply criticised by both international and Pakistani human rights organisations. A charge can be laid by anyone who simply accuses another of blasphemy. No evidence is required and the onus is often put on the accused to prove his or her innocence.

Attempts to tighten the law and to make it a crime to falsely accuse someone of blasphemy have been stopped by militant Islamic groups.

Hundreds of people are in Pakistan’s jails on blasphemy charges. It can be dangerous for judges in Pakistan to try blasphemy cases and some adjourn cases indefinitely rather than risk making a judgement.

Islamic militants often attend the trials so they can threaten and hurl abuse at judges and defence lawyers. Aslam says his client was falsely accused by her neighbour when she rejected his advances.

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