November 11, 2010
PUNJAB, PAKISTAN (ANS) -- A Pakistani court has sentenced Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of four, to death for "blasphemy" charges, making Bibi the first woman to receive such a capital punishment.
Release International, a United Kingdom based Christian organization serving the persecuted Christians, reports that a sessions court judge on Monday gave Asia the maximum sentence at the end of a trial that lasted for more than 16 months.
Bibi, a farm laborer in her late-30s from Ittanwali, Punjab, was also fined more than US $1,100 - the equivalent of two-and-a-half years' salary for the average worker.
"Release partners at Sharing Life Ministry Pakistan (SLMP), who have been supporting Asia and her family throughout their ordeal, say that they and the family are shocked by this outcome," Release said in a statement.
The group noted that no one sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan has ever been executed, but Bibi 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.
According to the report, police first filed a case against her in June 2009 after local Muslims accused her of making derogatory comments against Islam's prophet, Mohammed.
"She had reportedly been discussing matters of faith with fellow laborers in the fields when Asia and her daughters were attacked by local villagers and Muslim clerics. She had reportedly been under pressure from her fellow workers to convert to Islam," the report added.
It continued: "A spokesman for SLMP described Asia as having a strong faith - but said that this decision would be a crushing blow to her and her family. She was longing to go back home to her children, but her dreams of release have vanished now. She desperately needs peace in her heart, the peace that comes from God. The SLMP team plan to visit Asia in prison as soon as possible."
Bibi's conviction could set a dangerous precedent. Martha Bibi, who is currently on trial for blasphemy in Lahore, was charged in 2007 after a dispute with builders who allegedly refused to return equipment belonging to her.
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. To sign their petition calling for justice towards Christians in Pakistan, visit www.releaseinternational.org/current.
Copyright 2010 ASSIST News Serviced. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Photo of Asia Bibi courtesy www.persecution.com