Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vatican: Pope appeals for life of Pakistani Christian ~ sentenced to hang for blasphemy

Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful at his weekly general audience in Saint-Peter's square at the Vatican on November 17, 2010

"I today express my spiritual closeness to Ms Asia Bibi and her family while asking that, as soon as possible, she may be restored to complete freedom,"

"I also pray for people who find themselves in similar situations, that their human dignity and fundamental rights may be fully respected," the pope stated.

Vatican City, 17 Nov. (AKI) - Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday made an appeal for a Pakistani Christian mother of five who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy after she collected water from a well to be drunk by Muslims.

"I today express my spiritual closeness to Ms Asia Bibi and her family while asking that, as soon as possible, she may be restored to complete freedom," said the pontiff at the end of his weekly general audience at the Vatican.

"Over these days, the international community is, with great concern, following the situation of Christians in Pakistan, who are often victims of violence or discrimination," said Benedict.

Forty-five-year-old Asia Bibi, is believed to be the first woman sentenced to death under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law, which opponents say is often exploited by Islamist extremists or those harbouring personal grudges.

Bibi was charged with insulting the Prophet Mohammed, after she was sent by the wife of a village chief in her village in eastern Punjab province to fetch water. Muslim clerics reported her to police after villagers claimed it was sacrilegious to drink water collected by a non-Muslim, Bibi's husband was quoted as saying.

Following a year-long trial, Bibi was sentenced to death on Monday by a court in Nankana, around 75 kilometres from Lahore. Her family announced it would appeal the sentence.

"I also pray for people who find themselves in similar situations, that their human dignity and fundamental rights may be fully respected," the pope stated.

Italy's mayor Gianni Alemanno said on Tuesday that Rome's Colosseum should be lit up to highlight Bibi's plight. The city council has also pace a giant poster of Bibi at Rome's Campidoglio town hall.

Alemanno is among Italian politicians who have backed a campaign to save Bibi launched by the Italian Bishops Conference's television channel TV2000.

Muslim and Christian women's associations and rights groups in Pakistan have held protest marches in Lahore and other cities against Bibi's death sentence and non-governmental organisations have ratcheted up their campaign to repeal the blasphemy law.

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