‘Hang the infidel’: Thousands of Islamist extremists rally in Pakistan to demand judges uphold death sentence for Christian woman convicted of insulting Prophet Mohammed
- Islamist group hold rally demanding Christian woman is executed
- Mother-of-five Asia Bibi, 53, from Punjab, Pakistan, on death row since 2010
- Accused of insulting Prophet Mohammed during an argument over cup of water
- Supreme Court is due to announce ruling on her appeal against death sentence
- If they don’t rule in her favour, Ms Bibi will be the first executed for blasphemy
Thousands of Islamist extremists rallied in eastern Pakistan today, in order to pressure judges to uphold a death sentence for a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy.
Asia Bibi, 53, has been on death row since 2010, after being accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed during an argument over a water bowl in Punjab province.
Supporters of the ultra-religious party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) gathered in several cities today, threatening nationwide protests if authorities free Ms Bibi.
Appeal: Asia Bibi, 53, has been on death row since 2010, after being accused of insulting Islam during an argument over a water bowl with a group of Muslim women in Punjab.
Protests: Hundreds of Islamists are seen at a rally in Lahore, Pakistan, to pressure judges to uphold a death sentence for a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy
Protesters in the city of Lahore, where several children were present, could be heard chanting ‘Hang infidel Asia’ as they paraded through the streets.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court reached a decision on her final appeal on Monday, but their announcement is not expected until next week, potentially due to a fear of mob violence.
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The delay in their announcement, which has left her family and legal team hopeful of an acquittal, has angered Islamists, who want her to be publicly hanged – making her the first person executed for blasphemy in Pakistan.
The mother-of-five’s first appeal was dismissed by a Lahore High Court in 2014, but the Supreme Court stayed her execution in 2015.
If the three-judge Supreme Court bench uphold the 53-year-old’s conviction, her only recourse will be a direct appeal to the president for clemency.
Young extremists: Several children could be seen among the protesters calling for the 53-year-old woman to be hanged for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed
Protest: Chanting ‘Hang infidel Asia,’ activists from the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party also rallied in other cities , threatening nationwide protests if authorities free the mother-of-five
Ms Bibi’s case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help her were assassinated, including Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot by his own bodyguard.
Speaking to MailOnline earlier this week, her husband Ashiq Masih said that even if Ms Bibi is set freed, she and their entire family need to leave Pakistan for their own safety.
‘We believe they will set her free, but the circumstances are such that she would be unable to live in Pakistan as a free woman. She would not survive.’
The allegations against Ms Bibi date back to 2009, when she was working in a field near her home village in Sheikhupura, Punjab and was asked to fetch water.
The Muslim women she was labouring with objected, saying that as a non-Muslim Ms Bibi was unfit to drink from the same water bowl as them.
Ms Bibi would later say that the women insulted her religion, to which she responded: ‘I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?’
This prompted the Muslim women to go to a local imam and accuse Ms Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.
Happier times: Asia Bibi is seen with her two youngest children Eisham, left, and her sister Esha, right, who has learning difficulties – now aged 18 and 17
Hope: Ms Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih and their daughter Eisham are pictured in Scotland this week, where they are visiting while waiting to hear the Supreme Court’s ruling
Before Ms Bibi could be arrested on any official charges, a violent mob descended on their family home, and beat Ms Bibi up in front of her children.
The abuse was so violent, police were called to the scene, but after rescuing the mother-of-five, they arrested her and threw her in jail – and a year later she was convicted of blasphemy.
She has been held in solitary confinement since her arrest and was told to remain so following her conviction in 2010 for her own safety due to the risk of Muslim prisoners attacking her.
Blasphemy is a charge so sensitive in Pakistan that anyone even accused of insulting Islam risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.
The charge is punishable by a maximum penalty of death under legislation that rights groups say is routinely abused by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.
The law does not define what blasphemy constitutes, and evidence is often not reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.
Despite this, calls for reform of the blasphemy law have regularly been met with violence and rejected.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan launched a wholehearted defence of the laws during his election campaign earlier this year, vowing his party ‘fully’ supports the legislation and ‘will defend it’.
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