Pakistani official dismisses clergy offer of reward for Bibi’s death
A Pakistani government official decried recently the announcement by a cleric of a financial reward for anyone who kills a Christian woman and mother of five if the government does not sentence her to death by hanging.
Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for Minorities Affairs, condemned the announcement by Peshawar cleric Yousef Qureshi that his Mohabat Khan mosque would give 500,000 rupees ($5,800) to anyone who kills Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who is being tried for blasphemy because she refused to convert to Islam, the Daily Times said.
Bhatti called the announcement “unjust and irresponsible,” adding that it would only trigger extremists in society to “take the law into their own hands,” according to the Daily Times.
Bhatti also said that no one has the right to issue such a decree and said that Pakistan is a civilized state. He said the case is awaiting the schedule of hearing from the high court adding, “The matter is subjudice and law should be allowed to take its course,” the Daily Times said.
So far, no one has been executed because of the blasphemy law. However, 32 people, two of them judges, were killed by vigilantes, Time Magazine said.
The Voice of America said Bhatti had already recommended that Bibi be either pardoned or released if her pending court hearing is not addressed soon. Bibi is the first woman to be condemned to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy law.
Time Magazine said the blasphemy law has often been used to either settle old scores, or to persecute minorities. So far, no conclusive evidence has been produced against Bibi, who has long been pressured by fellow farm workers to convert to Islam.
Chances of a pardon by President Asif Ali Zardari were also skewed when the Lahore High Court said it would not allow it. The move, legal experts say, is unconstitutional, according to Time Magazine.
Bibi’s husband and family have already fled their home in Lahore due to the unrest and tension that has been caused by the case, according to the Voice of America.
International, National outrage
Bibi’s case has caused a furor both nationally and globally, catching the attention of human rights groups, religious fundamentalists, faith leaders (including Pope Benedict XVI) and politicians, perhaps giving the blasphemy law the largest scale of examination it has ever undergone, according to Time Magazine.
Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab visited Bibi in prison and called for her release. Because of this, fundamentalist groups called him an apostate which, in their view, is also punishable by death, Time Magazine said.
Legislator Sherry Rehman has also received violent threats because she has long called for the amendment of the blasphemy law and the removal of the death sentence, Time Magazine said.
According to Time, Rehman’s efforts to reform the law are not auspicious. Politicians are afraid to support it, including Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani who last year suggested the law be reviewed, but now seems to be distancing himself. When asked about Rehman’s bill, Gilani said, “It is not our party policy.”
But Rehman sees the mere submission of her bill as an important step, telling Time, “The first stone has been cast. It’s not a taboo subject anymore to be taken up by legislators.”
While Bibi’s family is hoping either that the higher courts reverse the death sentence, or that she is pardoned, it is probable that Bibi, if spared, will no longer be able to live in the community, “simply for defending her right to choose her own faith,” Time Magazine said.