Pakistani Woman Appeals Death Sentence for ‘Blasphemy’

by | Nov 15, 2010 | Charisma Archive

District judge bows to pressure of local Muslims, handing down stunning sentence to Christian.

Attorneys for a
Christian mother of five sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly
speaking ill of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, have filed an appeal of
the verdict, they said.
 
Bowing to pressure from Muslim
extremists in Pakistan, according to the Christian woman’s husband and
rights groups, a district court judge handed down the stunning sentence
to Asia Noreen on Monday (Nov. 8). Additional District and Sessions
Judge Naveed Ahmed Chaudhary of Nankana Sahib district delivered the
verdict under Pakistan’s controversial “blasphemy” statute, the kind of
law that a resolution before the United Nations condemning “defamation
of religions” would make legitimate internationally.

 
Noreen is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s widely condemned law against defaming Islam.
 
Noreen’s lawyer, Chaudhry Tahir Shahzad, said that among other
allegations, she was accused of denying that Muhammad was a prophet.
 
“How can we expect a Christian to affirm a Muslim belief?” Shahzad
said. He added that he and lawyer Manzoor Qadir had filed an appeal
against the district sessions court’s verdict in the Lahore High Court.
 
Asia (alternately spelled Aasya) Noreen has been languishing in
isolation in jail since June of last year after she argued with fellow
field workers in Ittanwali village who were trying to pressure her into
renouncing Christianity. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, told Compass that the
argument began after the wife of an Ittanwali elder sent her to fetch
water in Nankana Sahib district, about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from
Lahore in Punjab Province.
 
The Muslim women told Noreen that it was sacrilegious to drink water collected by a non-Muslim, he said.
 
“My wife only said, ‘Are we not all humans?’ when the Muslim women
rebuked her for her faith,” Masih, a field laborer, told Compass by
telephone. “This led to an altercation.”
 
Centre for Legal
Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) General Secretary Katherine Sapna
told Compass that the women told Muslim cleric Muhammad Salim about the
incident, and he filed a case with police on the same day, June 14,
2009.

On June 19, 2009, Masih said, the Muslim women suddenly raised a commotion, accusing Noreen of defaming Muhammad.
 
“Several Muslim men working in the nearby fields reached the spot and
forced their way into our house, where they tortured Asia and the
children,” said Masih, who confirmed that his wife is 45 years old and
that they have five children – four girls and a boy, the oldest daughter
20.

Police arrived and took his wife into custody, presumably for her own protection, he said.
 
“They saved Asia’s life, but then later a case was registered against
her under Sections 295-B and C [blaspheming the Quran and Muhammad,
respectively] at the Nankana police station on the complaint of Muhammad
Salim, the local imam [prayer leader] of the village,” he said. “Asia
has been convicted on false charges. We have never, ever insulted the
prophet Muhammad or the Quran.”
 
Salim reportedly claimed
that Noreen confessed to speaking derogatorily of Islam’s prophet and
apologized. Under immense pressure from local Muslims, according to
Masih, CLAAS and Sohail Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry, local judge
Chaudhary ruled out the possibility that Noreen was falsely accused. In
spite of repeated efforts by the Muslim women to pressure her into
renouncing her faith, the judge also reportedly ruled “there were no
mitigating circumstances.”

Chaudhary also fined her 100,000 rupees (US$1,150), according to CLAAS.
 
Ataul Saman of the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP)
said that lower court verdicts in blasphemy cases are usually overturned
by higher courts. He said lower court proceedings take place under
intense pressure, with local Muslims gathering outside and chanting
slogans to pressure judges. Saman added that NCJP research showed that
up to 80 percent of blasphemy charges are filed against people to settle
personal scores.
 
Rights groups have long criticized
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as too easily used to settle grudges or
oppress religious minorities, such as the more than 4 million Christians
that Operation World estimates out of Pakistan’s total population of
184.7 million. To date no one has been executed for blasphemy in
Pakistan, as most are freed on appeal after suffering for years under
appalling prison conditions. Vigilantes have killed at least 10 people
accused of blasphemy, rights groups estimate.
 
Noreen was
convicted under Section 295-C of the defamation statutes for alleged
derogatory comments about Muhammad, which is punishable by death, though
life imprisonment is also possible. Section 295-B makes willful
desecration of the Quran or a use of its extract in a derogatory manner
punishable with life imprisonment. Section 295-A of the defamation law
prohibits injuring or defiling places of worship and “acts intended to
outrage religious feelings of any class of citizens.” It is punishable
by life imprisonment, which in Pakistan is 25 years.

Between
1986 and August 2009, at least 974 people have been charged with
defiling the Quran or insulting Muhammad, according to the NCJP. Those
charged included 479 Muslims, 340 Ahmadis, 119 Christians, 14 Hindus and
10 from other religions.
 
Johnson of Sharing Life Ministry,
which is active in prisons and has been following Noreen’s case from
the onset, said he was impressed by her continued faith.
 
“A
week before the verdict, I went to visit Asia in jail,” he said. “I
asked her what she was expecting. She told me that Jesus would rescue
her from this fake case.”
 
The verdict was shocking in that no one was expecting a death sentence for a woman, he said. Masih agreed.
 
“Asia was hoping that the judge would free her and she would come home
to be with us, but this conviction has dashed our hopes for now,” Masih
said.
 
He said that since the sentencing, authorities have not allowed him or other members of their family to visit his wife.
 
“We don’t know yet how she is, but we trust the Lord,” he said. “Asia is suffering for Jesus, and He will not forsake her.”

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