Pakistani Christian woman appeals over death sentence

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Rights groups say the blasphemy law is often exploited by extremists or people with grudges

Relatives of a Pakistani Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting the Prophet Muhammad say they will appeal against her conviction.

Asia Bibi is believed to be the first woman sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy law.

Her husband told the BBC her conviction was based on "false accusations".

Although no-one has ever been executed under the law, about 10 accused have been murdered before the completion of their trials.

The 45-year-old mother was sentenced to death on Monday by a court in the town of Nankana, around 75km (45 miles) from the city of Lahore in Punjab province.

Altercation over water

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, who is a field labourer, said: "We have never ever insulted the Prophet Muhammad or Islamic scripture, and we will contest the charges in the higher courts."

He said his wife was accused of blasphemy after getting into an argument last year with a group of women when she was sent by the wife of a village chief to fetch water.

Mr Masih said the other women challenged his wife and said it was sacrilegious to drink water collected by a non-Muslim.

"My wife took offence, saying, 'Are we not humans?' This led to an altercation," he said

Mr Masih added: "The actual complaint was lodged five days later, when local clerics raised the issue with the police."

Asia Bibi was arrested and charged with insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Reports say the trial judge ruled out the possibility that she was falsely accused and said there were no mitigating circumstances.

Human rights activists want the blasphemy law repealed as they say it is often exploited by Islamist extremists or those harbouring personal grudges.

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