Salman Taseer, right, Governor of Pakistani Punjab Province, listens to Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, left, at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010. - AP Photo

LAHORE: A Christian mother of five has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, the first such conviction of a woman, sparking protests from rights groups on Thursday.

Asia Bibi, 45, was handed down the death sentence by a court in Nankana district in central Punjab on Monday. Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy. Ms Asia’s case dates back to June 2009 when she was asked to fetch water while out working in the fields. But a group of Muslim women labourers objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she should not touch the water bowl.

A few days later the women went to a local cleric and alleged that Ms Asia made derogatory remarks about the Prophet (peace be upon him). The cleric went to police, who opened an investigation.

Ms Asia was arrested in Ittanwalai village and prosecuted under Section 295-C of the PPC, which carries the death penalty.

Husband Ashiq Masih, 51, said he would appeal her death sentence.

Human rights activists want the controversial legislation repealed, saying it was exploited for personal enmity and encourages extremism.

“The blasphemy law is absolutely obscene and it needs to be repealed in totality,” Human Rights Watch spokesman Ali Dayan Hasan said.—AFP

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