South Asia

Pakistan blasphemy law 'should be abolished'

Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi is seen in an undated photo handed out by family members in Punjab province on November 13, 2010.
Image caption Asia Bibi, seen here in an undated family photo, is a 45-year-old mother from Punjab province

Calls for Pakistan's blasphemy law to be abolished have been renewed after a Christian woman was sentenced to death following a squabble with villagers.

Human Rights Watch say the case of Asia Bibi, the first woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, underlines why the law should go.

She said she was arrested after rowing with women who refused to drink water made "unclean" by a Christian's touch.

Critics say the law has been used to target minority faiths in Pakistan.

No-one has ever been executed under the legislation but about 10 accused have been murdered before the completion of their trials, correspondents say.

President Asif Ali Zardari, who can pardon Ms Bibi, ordered a review of the case after the international outcry that greeted her sentencing this month.

'Heinous law'

The Pope last week joined calls for the release of Ms Bibi, a 45-year-old mother from Punjab province.

She denies insulting the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with other farmhands in a Sheikhupura district village in June last year.

Human Rights Watch's Ali Dayan Hasan said: "Asia Bibi has suffered greatly and should never have been put behind bars.

"The injustice and fear the blasphemy law spawns will only cease when this heinous law is repealed."

Human Rights Watch says social persecution and legal discrimination have become especially widespread in Punjab province against religious minorities, such as Christians and the minority Ahmadi Muslim sect.

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