Pakistani cleric calls for Christian to be killed

PESHAWAR, Pakistan—A hardline Pakistani cleric offered a cash reward Friday for anyone who kills a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy against Islam.

A Pakistani court sentenced Asia Bibi to death on Nov. 8, triggering protests from human rights groups and Christian organizations in Pakistan and abroad. Islamist political parties have demonstrated in support of the sentence and the blasphemy laws.

Yousef Qureshi made the call for her murder at a rally in the northwestern town of Peshawar.

“The Mohabat Khan mosque of Peshawar will pay a reward of 500,000 rupees ($5,800) to those who kill Asia Bibi,” Qureshi told around 300 people, referring to the mosque he preaches at.

City authorities were not immediately available for comment on his remarks.

Christians accused of, or convicted of blasphemy, have been murdered before in Pakistan. Rights groups say police are often reluctant to investigate the crimes or give minorities protection in general.

Later, Qureshi told reporters that his first demand was for the government to execute Bibi. If not, he said, “then we appeal to the mujahedeen, the Taliban and all those who love the Prophet to come forward and kill this woman.”

Bibi, a 45-year-old mother of five, has been in jail in Punjab province for the last 1 1/2 years after being convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. She and her family say she is innocent and the victim of a personal feud. She has been supported by the governor of Punjab, as well as Pakistan’s minority affairs minister.

Dozens of Pakistanis are sentenced to death each year under the blasphemy law, which dates back to the 1980s military rule of Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, who introduced it to get support from right-wing Islamist parties. The current government is secular but politically weak. Any attempt to repeal it would be met with opposition.

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