PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A hardline cleric in northwest Pakistan on Friday offered a reward of 6,000 dollars to anyone who kills a Christian mother sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
Maulana Yousuf Qureshi issued the call in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, at a rally against moves to pardon the woman.
Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was sentenced on November 8 to death by hanging, under controversial blasphemy laws that human rights activists say encourage Islamist extremism.
The government attempted to pardon Bibi after an international outcry over the case, but a Pakistani court on Monday prevented it from granting her a swift pardon.
"We demand that the government should hang her to death under the law. If it does not do so, we will offer a reward of 500,000 rupees (6,000 dollars) to anyone killing her," Qureshi said.
"There are hundreds of thousands of people including mujahedin (warriors) and Taliban who are ready to sacrifice their lives for the honour of the Prophet Mohammed. Anyone of them could finish her," Qureshi said.
About 200 people attended the rally after the weekly Friday prayers at the historic 17th century Mahabat Khan mosque in central Peshawar. Qureshi is the prayer leader at the mosque but does not have a large following.
He has offered rewards for killings in the past -- including an offer in 2006 of one million dollars and a car for the deaths of artists whose controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed appeared in Danish newspapers.
But no one has yet attempted to claim his rewards.
Bibi can be executed only if the Lahore high court upholds her sentence, which she has appealed. No date has so far been set for the appeal hearing.
Most of those convicted of blasphemy in Pakistan have their sentences overturned or commuted on appeal through the courts.
Bibi was arrested in June 2009 after Muslim women said that she had made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed. She was set upon by a mob, then arrested by police and sentenced on November 8 this year.
Rights activists and pressure groups say it is the first time that a woman has been sentenced to hang in Pakistan for blasphemy.
A report commissioned by the government recommended a pardon, saying that "the blasphemy case against Asia Bibi has been registered on grounds of personal enmity".
Her family said they had been forced to go into hiding after they received death threats.
Only around three percent of Pakistan's population of 167 million are estimated to be non-Muslim.
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