Pakistan court frees Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy

Asia Bibi

The Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman condemned to death for blasphemy, ordering her immediate release from prison.

"The appeal is allowed".

She has been offered asylum by several countries and was expected to leave the country if acquitted.

"The judgement of high court as well as trial court is reversed".

Bibi was convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death in 2010, despite her advocates maintaining her innocence and insisting the accusers held grudges against her.

At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn't like her "taking revenge".

Insulting Islams prophet is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and blasphemy accusations stir such emotions that they are nearly impossible to defend against.

Bibi, a wife and mother of two children and three stepchildren, was on death row and held in solitary confinement for more than eight years.

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The ultra-Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which makes punishing blasphemy its main campaign rallying cry, earlier this month warned the court against any "concession or softness" for Bibi. "We knew that she is innocent", he said.

The charges against her date back to a hot day in 2009 when she went to get water for her and her fellow farmworkers.

The media has been prevented from discussing the case since the verdict was reserved on 8 October. In 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province was shot and killed by one of his elite guards for defending Bibi and criticizing misuse of the blasphemy law.

Extra forces have been deployed in sensitive areas, such as diplomatic enclaves, and hundreds of police and para-military personnel are guarding the Supreme Court.

However, on 7 October, Ashiq Masih, Bibi's husband, said his wife was "spiritually strong" and "ready and willing to die for Christ", adding that she will "never convert to Islam". Besides, they said, the allegation of a quarrel before the incident in which Bibi was first insulted for being a Christian had also not been proved.

To this, Justice Nisar had asked Bibi's lawyer, "Are these things on record?" His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 and has been feted as a hero by hardliners, with a shrine to him built by Islamists just outside the capital.

Bibi's case has been extremely divisive in Pakistan.

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.

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