Christians step up campaign for release of Asia Bibi

Amidst pressure from Pakistan's religious hardliners not to amend a blasphemy law, Christian groups have pledged to take all possible steps for the release of a mother of five who has been sentenced to death for insulting Prophet Mohammed.

The death sentence given to Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman convicted for blasphemy, has triggered a debate on the need to repeal or amend the controversial law.

However, hardline groups had organised protests across the country, saying they will not accept any changes to the law.

For the first time since a lower court in Punjab province sentenced Asia Bibi to death last month, groups representing the minority Christian community organised a protest in Lahore on Saturday and called on the government to drop the death penalty for blasphemy.

The rally, which coincided with Christmas, was attended by a large number of Christians and rights activists.

It was organised by 10 organisations that came together under the banner of the Pakistan Christian Democratic Alliance (PCDA).

Holding placards and banners, the protestors shouted slogans and demanded the repeal of sections 295-B and C of the blasphemy law.

These controversial clauses, inserted during the regime of late dictator Zia-ul-Haq, prescribe the death penalty for anyone convicted for insulting Prophet Mohammed and life imprisonment for those found guilty of desecrating the Quran.

As the protestors marched through the city's streets before assembling in front of the Punjab Assembly, they urged the government to curb the misuse of the blasphemy law. "Our protest is not only for release of Asia Bibi but also for all those blasphemy accused, even Muslims, who were trapped under baseless charges.

Many innocent accused are behind bars even though no blasphemy case against Christians or Muslims has been proved to be genuine so far," said Aslam Pervaiz Sahotra, an official of PCDA.

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