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The daughters of Asia Bibi hold a photo of their mother outside their residence in Ittanwalai, Pakistan, Nov. 13.

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Papal appeal for Asia Bibi
December 1st, 2010

At the end of his Nov. 17 general audience at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of threats to Christians in Pakistan and called for justice for a Catholic woman, Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to die under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

“Over these days the international community is, with great concern, following the situation of Christians in Pakistan, who are often victims of violence or discrimination,” the pope said. “In particular, I today express my spiritual closeness to Ms. Asia Bibi and her family while asking that, as soon as possible, she may be restored to complete freedom. I also pray for people who find themselves in similar situations, that their human dignity and fundamental rights may be fully respected.”

Bibi is a Pakistani Christian who, following a discussion with some Muslim colleagues, was accused by the latter of having pronounced offensive words against the Prophet Muhammad and denounced the local imam. The imam asked the police to intervene and an investigation began which, a few days later, led to her arrest on the accusation of violating code 295 of the penal code, which provides for the death penalty for blasphemy.

Bibi, a mother of two, is believed to be the first woman sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws for blaspheming against the Prophet Muhammad. She was convicted Nov. 14 by a Pakistani court.

However, Bibi’s supporters allege that she was denounced simply because she dared fetch water from a well belonging to a Muslim.

Church leaders have long charged that the blasphemy laws are being abused for personal gain and to harass non-Muslims.

The increasing number of people accused of blasphemy in Pakistan in recent months has worried Catholic and Muslim human rights groups, the Union of Catholic Asian News reported.

“The trend is increasing; it’s like an onslaught … the court has condemned a Catholic woman to death,” said Rosemary Noel, national coordinator of the Catholic Women’s Organization.

According to Ansar Burney Trust, 10 “innocent” non-Muslims have been murdered while still on blasphemy trial in Pakistan.

The blasphemy laws make an insult to the Quran an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment, while giving the death penalty to anyone convicted of insulting Prophet Muhammad.

The abuse of blasphemy laws is not limited to Pakistan, Human Rights First, a non-profit, non-partisan human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C., said in a new report.

Blasphemy laws are intended to protect against religious defamation but “risk promoting an atmosphere of intolerance by providing a context in which governments can restrict freedom of expression, thought, and religion and can result in devastating consequences for those holding religious views that differ from the majority religion, as well as for adherents to minority faiths,” Human Rights First said.


From December 3, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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