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Pakistan Cleric Offers Reward for Killing Christian Woman

Hardline Pakistani cleric Maulana Yousef Qureshi, center, addresses a rally against Christian woman Asia Bibi in Peshawar, Pakistan, 03 Dec 2010

A Pakistani cleric says if the government does not hang a Christian mother of five convicted last month of blasphemy against Islam, then his mosque will offer a reward of $6,000 to anyone who kills her. Yousef Qureshi issued the call Friday.

Pakistan's Minister for Minority Affairs Shabaz Bhatti has recommended that Asia Bibi be pardoned or released from prison if her pending court appeal is not quickly addressed.

Bibi has denied claims by local women that she made derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.

Bibi is the first woman condemned to die under Pakistan's blasphemy law. Convictions under the law are common, but no executions have ever been carried out.

During her trial, Bibi told the court Muslim villagers were pressing her to accept Islam. She said she is being prosecuted because of her religion.

Bibi's husband says the family has been forced to flee their home near Lahore because of threats on his wife's life if she is released from prison.

Pakistan's Christians, who make up less than five percent of the country's 175 million people, have long complained of discrimination. Christian and human rights groups have expressed shock at Bibi's death sentence and have begun an online petition calling for Pakistan blasphemy law to be repealed.