Christian convict isolated over security fears

Asia Bibi (left) is shown here in 2010, the year she was sentenced to hang for blasphemy, with Pakistani Punjab governor Salman Taseer. There are fears she could be killed by vigilantes while on death row.
Asia Bibi (left) is shown here in 2010, the year she was sentenced to hang for blasphemy, with Pakistani Punjab governor Salman Taseer. There are fears she could be killed by vigilantes while on death row.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ISLAMABAD • A Christian woman on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy has been put in isolation over fears of attacks by vigilantes enraged over a high-profile ruling in another blasphemy case that moderates said struck a blow against religious extremism.

Prison officials and rights activists said this week that they were concerned for Asia Bibi's life due to the security threat and her worsening health.

The mother of five, whose plight has prompted prayers from the Vatican, has been on death row since she was convicted in 2010 of committing blasphemy during an argument with a Muslim woman over a bowl of water.

She was put in solitary confinement last week at the women's prison in the city of Multan, an official there told Agence France-Presse.

The move came after "genuine" threats to her life were issued in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the death sentence for Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of a politician who sought blasphemy law reform in a separate, high-profile case.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan. The country has never executed anyone on the charge - but anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

Last year, a British-Pakistani citizen who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy was shot and wounded by a guard at Rawalpindi's Adiala jail. And a Christian labourer and his wife were burned alive last November after being accused of throwing pages of the Quran in the garbage.

"She (Bibi) could be killed by any inmate or even a prison guard, so we have to be careful," a prison official told Agence France-Presse. A second official confirmed that Bibi had been isolated, adding: "We are concerned for her life."

Bibi denies the charges against her. The Supreme Court agreed in July to hear an appeal against her sentence, but no date has yet been set.

In April, Pope Francis met her husband and daughter, and said he was praying for her.

In 2010, his predecessor Benedict XVI publicly called for Bibi's release. Her husband has also written to Pakistan's President Mamnoon Hussain to ask for her to be pardoned and allowed to move to France.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'Christian convict isolated over security fears'. Print Edition | Subscribe