17 October 2014, The Tablet

Appeal rejected of mother on death row accused of blasphemy

The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Thursday upheld the death sentence of a Christian mother of five convicted of blasphemy four years ago.

Lawyers for Asia Bibi, a Catholic, vowed to appeal in Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

Mrs Bibi has been on death row since November 2010 and has spent much of her time in isolation. She had been accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman, and a court found her guilty.

Her lawyer Shakir Chaudhry told the news agency AFP on Thursday: “A two-judge bench of the Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal of Asia Bibi but we will file an appeal in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.”

Two high-profile politicians – Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti – were murdered in 2011 after speaking out in favour of reforms to the blasphemy law and describing Bibi's trial as flawed.

In Pakistan the blasphemy law, described by Amnesty International as “poisonous”, is frequently used to settle personal vendettas.

The blasphemy allegations against Mrs Bibi date back to June 2009, after some Muslim women she was working alongside in a field said that as a Christian she was unfit to touch the same water container the others were sharing. One of the women complained to local cleric Qari Saleem, who was present in court on Thursday and welcomed the High Court’s verdict as “a victory of Islam”.

Blasphemy carries the death penalty, though Pakistan has had a de facto moratorium on civilian hangings since 2008.

A Scottish man, Mohammad Asghar, is also on death row in Pakistan after being found guilty of blasphemy. Mr Asghar, 70, who has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, was accused of blasphemy in 2010 after writing a series of letters claiming to be the Prophet Muhammad.

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