A Christian woman has been sentenced to hang in Pakistan after being convicted of defaming the Prophet Mohammed.
Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old mother-of-five, denies blasphemy and told investigators that she was being persecuted for her faith in a country where Christians face routine harassment and discrimination.
Christian groups and human rights campaigners condemned the verdict and called for the blasphemy laws to be repealed.
Her supporters say she will now appeal against the sentence handed down in a local court in the town of Sheikhupura, near Lahore, Pakistan.
The court heard she had been working as a farmhand in fields with other women, when she was asked to fetch drinking water.
Some of the other women — all Muslims — refused to drink the water as it had been brought by a Christian and was therefore “unclean”, according to Mrs Bibi’s evidence, sparking a row.
The incident was forgotten until a few days later when Mrs Bibi said she was set upon by a mob.
The police were called and took her to a police station for her own safety.
Shahzad Kamran, of the Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan, said: “The police were under pressure from this Muslim mob, including clerics, asking for Asia to be killed because she had spoken ill of the Prophet Mohammed.
“So after the police saved her life they then registered a blasphemy case against her.” He added that she had been held in isolation for more than a year before being sentenced to death on Monday.
Pakistani Christian Woman Sentenced to Death for Blasphemy Charges
[A report by Release International, a United Kingdom based Christian organization serving persecuted Christians] said that Asia, a farm laborer in her late-30s from Ittanwali, Punjab, was also fined more than Â£700 ($1,129.76 USD) — the equivalent of two-and-a-half years’ salary for the average worker.
The group noted that no one sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan has ever been executed, but Asia could now spend years in appalling conditions on death row. If she appeals to the High Court, it may take years before her case is heard.
Release International said they’re concerned that Asia’s conviction could set a dangerous precedent. Martha Bibi is currently on trial for blasphemy in Lahore and she was charged in 2007, after a dispute with builders who allegedly refused to return equipment belonging to her.
They say, “Act now by signing our petition calling for justice for Christians in Pakistan at www.releaseinternational.org/current or call our office Tel: +44 (0) 1689 823491 for a paper copy.
Release International, through its international network of missions, serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries around the world by supporting pastors and Christian prisoners, and their families; supplying Christian literature and Bibles and also working for justice.