Asia Bibi fears she's next, after Pakistani minister’s slaying

.- Speaking from her prison cell, Asia Bibi has voiced her “pain and concern” following the assassination of Minister Shahbaz Bhatti in Pakistan.

Bibi compared Bhatti to slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who defended her publicly “and paid with his life,” her lawyer told Fides news agency.

The Christian mother is presently in an isolation cell in a Punjab jail for allegedly violating the country’s strict blasphemy law.

She is still afraid that she could be the next target of violent Islamic groups. Posters have appeared inside the jail showing images of Taseer and Bhatti with a large question mark and the threatening phrase “Who will be next?”

“Asia says that part of her hope died with Bhatti, but there are other things that give her hope: the support of all Christians in Pakistan and around the world; the visit of her children,” which was recently made possible after bureaucratic problems, according to Bibi’s lawyer.

Bibi’s legal team said that it would be preferable to delay her case before starting the appeal process, given current tensions. They emphasized the need to defend religious minorities in Pakistan.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s minister for minorities, was murdered by masked gunmen on March 2. He was a Catholic and the only Christian in the country’s cabinet.

On March 7 the Christian Lawyers Association in Pakistan organized a public demonstration in Lahore in response to Bhatti’s murder. Participants marched from the Palace of the High Court to the Palace of the Parliament in Punjab.

The association’s president Akbar Munawar Durrani said that the killing is a tragic testimony to the terrorism and extremism raging throughout the country. He called for the abolition of all discriminatory laws, and a ban on publications which feed hatred against religious minorities.

He also urged the legal prosecution of radical leaders who have publicly called for the deaths of religious minorities because they favor revising the blasphemy law. On Dec. 3, 2010 the imam of Peshawar’s oldest mosque, Maluna Yousaf Qureshi, offered a 500,000 rupee (about $5,800) reward to anyone who killed the woman if the court failed to execute her.

The London-based Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement said the blasphemy law is the “obvious” root of such persecution and pledged it will continue to seek its repeal.

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