Pakistan Minister Condemns Reward for Killing Christian Woman

Pakistan's Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti condemned Saturday the recent announcement of a reward for killing the jailed Christian woman on death row for blasphemy.

Bhatti said the call is unjust and irresponsible and should be discouraged in the strongest possible manner because no one has the right to issue a decree to kill someone else, according to Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper. He also added that Pakistan is a civilized country and violation of the rule of law is not allowed.

"Every legal and constitutional means will be adopted in the Asia Bibi case," assured Bhatti, who was in charge of investigating the case and reported that Bibi was innocent to President Asif Ali Zadari.

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A hard-line imam known for making similar reward-for-murder calls in the past offered about $6,000 (500,000 rupees) to anyone who kills Asia Bibi during his sermon at the largest mosque in Peshawar on Friday. Imam Maulana Yousuf Qureshi also threatened the government to not amend or repeal the blasphemy laws "which provide protection to the sanctity of Holy Prophet Muhammad," according to Asia News.

Qureshi, who had also called for the murder of the Danish cartoonists who drew caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, said that if the appeals court judge freed Bibi then Muslim extremists will kill her.

"There are hundreds of thousands of people including mujahedin (warriors) and Taliban who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the honor of the Prophet Muhammad. Anyone of them could finish her," Qureshi said Friday, according to All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, a human rights group with which Bhatti formerly served as chairman.

Bibi, a mother of five, has been imprisoned for one-and-a-half years and was sentenced in November to death by hanging for allegedly speaking ill of Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

She is Christian and is the first woman to receive a death sentence for blasphemy in Pakistan.

Her case has sparked international outcry against Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which are often used against religious minorities after a small non-religious-related dispute. According to Bibi, her imprisonment and death sentence stems from a petty argument she had with fellow field workers in June 2009.

She was picking fruit in the field with fellow Muslim workers and went to get water for the group. Upon returning, the Muslim women in the field refused to drink the water because the container was touched by a Christian.

Bibi was offended and argued with the women, but then afterwards thought nothing of the incident. However, a few days later dozens of Muslims dragged her away. She was accused of blasphemy against the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, which she denies.

Bhatti has submitted a report to President Zadari stating that his findings show Bibi to be innocent. But the country's high court this past Monday barred the Pakistani government from pardoning her. It said doing so while a case is pending is illegal.

The high court has yet to set a date for Bibi's appeals hearing.

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