ISLAMABAD, Nov 15: The Centre has directed the Punjab government to ensure protection of a Christian woman in jail and her family members at home after she was given death sentence by a district and sessions court on blasphemy charges in Nankana Sahib last week. Besides, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti has also urged the provincial government to provide all possible chances to Aasia Bibi to plea her case on merit.

Talking to reporters outside parliament house after attending a meeting of National Assembly standing committee on Monday, Mr Bhatti said the government would not allow anyone to misuse the blasphemy law.

He said safeguarding the life and property of minorities was the constitutional obligation of the government.

He said in most of the cases, the blasphemy law was being misused to settle personal scores, political vendetta and religious enmities.

Aasia Bibi, a resident of Ittanwali, was accused of passing derogatory remarks against Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in an FIR registered with the Saddar police by Qari Salim, a mosque imam.

The judge, Mohammad Naveed Iqbal, reportedly also imposed a fine of Rs300,000 on her.

Aasia Bibi, the mother of five children, has filed an appeal with the Lahore High Court against the judgment.

Meanwhile, the National Commission on the Status of Women in a statement here expressed its ‘shock’ over the capital punishment awarded to Aasia Bibi and called for her immediate release. “Aasia Bibi is the latest victim of the pernicious blasphemy laws that in their present form were promulgated arbitrarily by a military dictator more than 20 years ago.