A Pakistani Christian woman has been sentenced to hang after she was accused of making ‘blasphemous‘ comments about the prophet Mohammed during an argument.
While working as a berry picker in 2009, 46-year-old Asia Bibi got into a dispute with a group of Muslim women who objected to her drinking their water because as a Christian she was considered ‘unclean’.
Hours after the incident one of the women reported Ms Bibi to a local cleric, claiming she had made disparaging remarks about the prophet Mohammed during the row.
As a result of the allegations, a furious mob arrived at Ms Bibi’s home and savagely beat her and members of her family.
She was later arrested, charged with blasphemy and eventually sentenced to death with her entire family forced to go into hiding after receiving threats on their lives.
This week, despite international outrage and hundreds of thousands of people signing a petition for her release, Ms Bibi lost an appeal to have her sentence overturned, meaning she now faces death by hanging.
The shocking case hit global headlines after two prominent politicians who tried to help Ms Bibi were assassinated, one by his own bodyguard.
Lawyers showered the killer with rose petals when he appeared in court and the judge who convicted him of murder had to flee the country.
Ms Bibi’s lawyer, Naeem Shakir, said her accusers have contradicted themselves many times since first raising their complaint.
Two witnesses allegedly involved in the incident did not appear in court, he said.
A Muslim prayer leader did appear, saying he did not witness the original altercation, but that Ms Bibi had confessed to the supposed crime in front of him.
Meanwhile, Mrs Bibi a farm worker from rural Punjab released a memoir called ‘Blasphemy’ last year, in which she described her torment at not knowing how long she has left to live.
Talking about how she ended up being accused of blasphemy, she says: ‘I drank water from a well belonging to Muslim women, using ‘their’ cup, in the burning heat of the midday sun.
‘I, Asia Bibi, have been sentenced to death because I was thirsty. I’m a prisoner because I used the same cup as those Muslim women, because water served by a Christian woman was regarded as unclean by my stupid fellow fruit-pickers.’
In the book, Mrs Bibi describes how tired of being considered a second class citizen simply because of her religion and insulted by constant calls for her to convert to Islam she decided to stand up to the crowd and defend Christianity.
Pushing and shoving ensued, forcing Ms Bibi to flee the scene.
When she returned to work five days later she was attacked again, but this time the crowd were accusing her of having insulted the Prophet Mohammed.
Battered and bruised, Ms Bibi was dragged before the local Islamic teacher who told her the only way she could redeem herself was by converting to Islam. Otherwise, he said, she would face death.
In November 2010 Ms Bibi was sentenced to death in a Sharia law court, becoming the first woman in Pakistan’s history to be given the death penalty for blasphemy.
Over the past four years Ms Bibi has languished in the high-security District Jail Seikhupura, 22 miles north-west of Lahore, before being moved to a more remote prison.
Officials now make her cook her own food every day because they fear that Ms Bibi has so many enemies within both the prison population and its staff.