Pakistan court frees Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy

Aasia Bibi

ISLAMABAD-Pakistan's top court on October 31, acquitted a Christian woman who was sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2010, a landmark ruling that sparked protests by hard-line Islamists and raised fears of violence.

He said: "The appeal is allowed". She has been acquitted.

Several points on the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway, including the Babu Sabu, Faizpur, Sheikhupura and Kala Shah Kaku interchanges have been blocked by protesters demonstrating against the Supreme Court's verdict.

The court, in a three-member bench led by chief justice Saqib Nisar, released the verdict on Wednesday morning, three weeks after they had reached a decision.

Bibi's case has been high on the agenda of religious hardliners in Pakistan, many of whom are fiercely opposed to her release.

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Given the probing questions from the Justices during arguments on appeal and Pakistan's history of never executing a death sentence in a blasphemy case, the only reason for the Supreme Court to uphold Asia's conviction would be the extreme pressure from Islamic groups that has now engulfed the country, including threats against the Justices.

"Asia Bibi has finally been served justice", lawyer Saiful Mulook said. The women had said they could no longer use a cup from which Bibi had had water, because of her religion.

In February, Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih and one of her daughters met with Pope Francis to beg for his help.

Shortly after the verdict, TLP supporters took to the streets in many cities to protest the court's verdict.

Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 and convicted in 2010 under section 295-C of Pakistan's penal code that punishes blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad with the death penalty.

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Bibi says she was falsely accused and is very respectful of Muslims and Mohammed.

The TLP was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Lahore provincial governor Salman Taseer for advocating for Bibi in 2011.

Rights groups say the blasphemy law is increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.

During the hearing of Bibi's appeal on Oct 8, the prosecution side, represented by Additional Prosecutor for Punjab Chaudhry Zubair, and Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry from the complainant side had supported each other by arguing that the accused had not denied committing blasphemy or presence of the accused as well as the witnesses at the place of occurrence.

On Twitter, a video circulated that showed young men on bikes riding through a dark road and shouting slogans, calling for the death of Asia Bibi.

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