Pakistan acquits Christian woman Bibi in iconic blasphemy case

Pakistan acquits Christian woman Bibi in iconic blasphemy case

Pakistan acquits Christian woman Bibi in iconic blasphemy case

Asia Bibi was ordered released eight years after she was sentenced to death in 2010 on blasphemy charges - a landmark ruling that sparked widespread protests around Pakistan by hard-line Islamists and even led to the murder of a local governor.

The allegations against Bibi date back to 2009, when Muslim field labourers who were working alongside refused to share water with her because she was Christian. After she took a sip, some of the Muslim women became angry that a Christian had drunk from the same container. Days later, Bibi was accused of blasphemy.

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.

The mum-of-three had been held at an undisclosed location for security reasons and is expected to leave the country. "Pakistan's Supreme Court must be appreciated that it upheld the law of the land and didn't succumb to any pressure".

Bibi's case has been extremely divisive in Pakistan.

Under the law in Pakistan, insulting Islam is punishable by death. At least 1,472 people were charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws between 1987 and 2016, according to statistics collected by the Center for Social Justice, a Lahore-based group.

The ruling was read out by Chief Justice Saquib Nisar at the Supreme Court in Islamabad.

"Should the court verdict be lenient against Asia Bibi, they warned of countrywide chakka jaam - laying siege to traffic, a form of protests in South Asia where protesters stop, attack and burn vehicles". Later, the guard, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged for the assassination - a move that infuriated supporters of firebrand Muslim cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who launched a violent drive to block any possible changes in the law.

"Asia Bibi has finally been served justice", lawyer Saiful Mulook said.

His announcement is a victory for human rights activists, who say religious minorities in Pakistan are routinely targeted and baseless allegations of blasphemy levied against them to settle personal vendettas.

She is a mother of four, the Reuters news agency notes.

Supporters of a Pakistani religious group burn tires while block a main road during a protest after a court decision in Karachi, Pakistan, on October 31, 2018. Both men supported Bibi and had called for an end to Pakistan's Blasphemy Law. The argument escalated as insults were traded with the women later accusing Bibi of committing blasphemy during the exchange.

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

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