Pope pleads for Christian mother sentenced to hang in Pakistan
Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday appealed for the life of a Christian woman facing execution in Pakistan for allegedly insulting the prophet Mohammed to be spared, DPA reported.
"I express my closeness to Asia Bibi and her family," the pontiff said, speaking at his weekly general audience. "And I ask that she be set free as soon as possible."
The spiritual leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics also called on the international community to consider the "difficult situation faced by Christians in Pakistan, where they are often victims of violence and discrimination."
Bibi's case has triggered outrage since the 45-year-old mother of five was last week sentenced to death by a court in Nankana Sahab, a district in the central Pakistani province of Punjab.
Bibi was arrested in June 2009 after a brief brawl with a group of Muslim women who said she should not have touched a water bowl. The women later alleged that Bibi had uttered derogatory remarks about the prophet.
Bibi pleaded not guilty, but the court sentenced her to hang.
It was the first death sentence handed to a woman under the country's controversial blasphemy laws.
Pakistan's around 3 million Christians - who account for roughly 1.6 per cent of the country's population - have been negatively affected by growing Islamist extremism, which has its roots in the Islamization policies of military dictator Zia ul Haq in the 1980s.
Ul Haq introduced blasphemy laws in his effort to impose sharia law, which rights activists say have been used to persecute minority groups.