Islamabad – A Pakistani Muslim cleric has offered a reward for the killing a Christian woman, already sentenced to death for uttering derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammad, media reports said on Saturday.
Maulana Yousuf Qureshi, the prayer leader in Mohabat Khan Mosque in Peshawar, the capital of militancy-plagued north-western Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, made the announcement during a protest rally on Friday.
“I will give 500,000 rupees (5,890 dollars) to anyone who kills Asia Bibi,” Qureshi was quoted as saying by the Daily Times. He also called on Taliban to murder the woman since it was “a service to the religion.”
Bibi was convicted last month by a court in Nankana Sahab, a district in the central province of Punjab, 17 months after police arrested her on charges of blasphemy.
She pleaded not guilty, saying that she was wrongly accused after a brief scuffle with a group of Muslim women over a water bowl. The court sentenced her to death by hanging.
Bibi’s case attracted international attention following a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XVI for her freedom. The Pakistani government is considering the possibility of pardoning Bibi, the first woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in the country.
Federal minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhattii, who himself is a Christian, condemned the cleric’s statement.
“It is unethical, immoral and will instigate and trigger those elements who can take law in their own hands and commit violence in the name of religion,” he told the German Press Agency dpa.
“We will not allow anyone to take law in their hands and establish rule of jungle in Pakistan. This shows why we are concerned about blasphemy laws because many people have been killed due to it in the past. I think the revision and amendment in the law is the need of time,” Bhatti added.
But a court last week put the potential pardon on ice until December 6, when the court will hold the next hearing of a case filed against the government.
Islamist groups are also putting pressure on the government to keep Bibi in prison, and refrain from introducing any amendments to the controversial blasphemy laws.
Protest rallies were held in several cities and prayer leaders warned the government and anyone who supported people uttering blasphemous remarks about the Prophet Mohammed.
Pakistan has not yet executed anyone for blasphemy, but dozens are imprisoned on blasphemy charges, which many rights activists and lawyers said are used to settle personal disputes.