By LIAQUAT ALI KHAN and JASMINE ABOU-KASSEM, Counterpunch, Dec 14, 2010
Aasia Bibi, a 45-year old Pakistani Christian woman, and mother of five, has been sentenced to death, under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, for allegedly “defiling” the Prophet Muhammad. Section 295 with various provisions is the blasphemy statute that enjoys popular support in Muslim Pakistan. Though Bibi is the first woman to be convicted for blasphemy, Christians, Hindus, and hundreds of Muslims have been charged under the statute. Section 295 is a convenient legal tool to settle petty personal scores, intimidate rival families, and practice ill-informed versions of Islam, particularly in small towns and villages, like the one where Bibi lived. Local judges come under pressure to convict persons charged under the statute with the strident approval of local elders. Over the years, attempts to repeal the statute have provoked stiff opposition from Muslim jurists and invited threats of violence from militant groups. Even Pervez Musharraf, a secular military dictator, could not, for fear of imminent and severe reprisals, repeal the statute. For the same reasons, major political parties are disinclined to correct the overbite of the blasphemy statute.