In a country with countless ethnicities and religious minorities, the 1980s law against insulting Islam is used to settle scores, critics say. The case of a Christian woman sentenced to death has led to renewed calls for its repeal.
|Daughters of Asia Bibi hold an image of their mother at their home in Sheikhupura, in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Human rights advocates have urged the president to pardon her and to repeal the blasphemy law under which she was convicted. (Adrees Latif, Reuters / December 27, 2010)|
By Alex Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2010
Reporting from Nankana Sahib, Pakistan —
Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim isn’t worried that a court or Pakistan’s president might spare a Christian woman from this village who has been sentenced to death on blasphemy charges.
After all, if Asia Bibi, a mother of two, escapes the hangman’s noose, he’s confident someone else will kill her.
“Any Muslim, if given the chance, would kill such a person,” Salim said calmly, seated cross-legged on a straw mat at a mosque here. “You would be rewarded in heaven for it.”
Salim isn’t the only one calling for vigilante justice. A cleric in Peshawar has offered 500,000 rupees, or $6,000, to anyone who kills Asia Bibi, if her execution doesn’t take place. Other hard-line clerics have warned they would mobilize nationwide protests against the government if President Asif Ali Zardari pardoned her.
Asia Bibi’s case has exposed deep rifts in Pakistan over the blasphemy law, seen by some as an appropriate measure to defend the tenets of Islam, but viewed by others as a dangerous tool easily abused in a society that is a volatile patchwork of ethnicities, religions and sects.