By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN (BosNewsLife) -- A Christian woman accused of blasphemy against Islam has been released on bail but concerns remain over her safety amid death threats, a human rights official involved in the trial confirmed to BosNewsLife Friday, May 4.
Shahbaz Bhatti, Chairman of the advocacy group All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) said Martha Bibi, 40, was released late Thursday, May 3, after the Lahore High Court granted her bail against 1,00,000 rupees ($1,667) several days earlier on Monday, April 30.
Martha Bibi, a resident of Kot Nanak Singh town, about 45 kilometers (38 miles) from Punjab province's capital Lahore, was detained in January for allegedly uttering "derogatory remarks" against Prophet Muhammad.
She was "was accused of blasphemy, when she went to the builders of the village's Mosque to collect rent on the wooden planks which [her family's shop] rented out," Bhatti said.
After the builder refused to pay, Bibi was apparently not able to enter the Mosque. "In response, Martha asked a young boy to bring out the planks lying inside the Mosque," he explained. "She carried two planks to her residence and came back to collect more. On her return, she found that the planks had been thrown into the Mosque again...Maratha tried to collect her material but she was abused and stopped by Mohammad Ramzan and his wife Yasmin, who later concocted the story of blasphemy."
While Bibi and her family were sleeping, an announcement was allegedly made through the Mosque speakers inciting locals against Christians in the area, saying that Martha Bibi "committed blasphemy by using derogatory words against Prophet Mohammad."
As a crowd approached her house "Martha's family left their home and hide in one of the neighboring house," however police soon came "and arrested Martha Bibi," Bhatti added. Police reportedly took her to a local police station where she was charged under section 295 C of Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which experts say could carry a death sentence.
APMA immediately questioned the evidence, but demands for bail were initially declined April 2 by a local court which reportedly cited the "sensitive nature" and the possibility of "sectarian clashes. The Lahore Lahore High Court overturned the decision nearly a month later.
APMA lawyers finally received permission to take her out of the district jail "Kasur," Bhatti added. "Although physically she was in a pathetic condition, the joy of being released could be seen on her face. She continued to praise [the] Lord Jesus for providing justice and let truth stand victorious."
He said Bibi told APMA that she was "frightened at the time of incarceration." In a statement distributed by APMA she said that police "abused" her. "I reiterated that the allegations leveled against me were false but my plight fell on deaf ears," she was quoted as saying.
"When I was at first kept with jail inmates I did not reveal allegation against me but when they came to know their attitude changed and they looked at me with hateful eyes and some of them warned me of dire consequence," Bibi explained in published remarks.
"I kept my faith and asked Gods intervention to provide me relief as the ultimate justice comes from Him. I prayed and cried day and night asking God for help [and] at last God listened to me and today I am out of the jail. He is truly my Savior and I will serve Him for my entire life," she added.
Bhatti said APMA would "continue to pursue the case of Martha Bibi in the court for her acquittal." He said that while her release on bail "has given joy and happiness to the victim's family" APMA remains concerned that "the complainant and the extremist elements are enraged by the decision." It was not clear if police had stepped up security Friday, May 4.
He said that "religious extremists in the area" have demanded "public hanging of Martha Bibi"
and asked for a "social boycott" of her family. Death sentences have always been overturned by higher courts, but at least 23 people suspected of blasphemy have been murdered, according to human rights group Open Doors.
"In this situation her husband, Boota Masih, and six young children, had to take refuge many kilometers (miles) away from their own home. The family of Martha Masih was temporarily shifted to a safe place due to growing threats," Bhatti he explained.
He said it was difficult for family members "to leave their home" as they just finished constructing a new house and Boota Masih's "business and [the] education of the children are affected." Bhatti said AMPA had urged its supporters to pray for the safety of the Bibi family and "for APMA members and lawyers who are defending her case and many other victims incarcerated for being the witness of Christ."
While some Pakistani officials have suggested a possibly change in the blasphemy laws, uman rights groups say chances have been slow. They say the legislation has been misused by militants to attack religious minorities, including Christians who comprise less than 3 percent of the predominantly Muslim population of almost 165 million people. (With BosNewsLife Research and reporting from Pakistan).
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