Pakistan frees Christian woman facing death penalty for blasphemy

Asia Bibi

A Christian woman in Pakistan on death row for almost a decade after she allegedly contaminated a water jug - an offense viewed as blasphemy in the Muslim country - was acquitted by the country's top court on Wednesday.

Bibi is being held at an undisclosed location for security reasons and is expected to leave the country. "Her conviction is set aside", said Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the ruling.

Whilst internationally Ms Bibi's conviction has been condemned as a breach of human rights, within the country there has been strong support. We are grateful to God.

In February, Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih and one of her daughters met with Pope Francis shortly before Rome's ancient Colosseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Bibi in particular.

Sources in the administration told Dawn that Rangers and Frontier Constabulary had been called as part of measures to step up security in Islamabad.

According to the Punjab Safe Cities Authority, routes from the Punjab Society to Ferozepur Road, EME to Shahkam Chowk, Lahore Bridge Railway Crossing (Qainchi), Charing Cross Mall Road, China Chowk, Chowk Multan Road, Kamahan Road, and Chandrai Road are all blocked as protesters continue to gather in large numbers.

In the eastern city of Multan, police arrested several demonstrators after clashes.

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On Oct 13 this year, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, a religio-political party headed by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, threatened to "paralyse the country within hours if the Supreme Court sets Asia Bibi free".

Bibi's family and her lawyer say she never insulted the Prophet.

Ms Bibi's lawyer on Wednesday called the court ruling "great news" for Pakistan. She had gone to fetch water for herself and fellow farm workers on a hot day the previous year, but two Muslim women had refused to drink from the same container and she was accused by a mob of blasphemy.

The three-judge panel upheld the blasphemy law itself, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam's holy book, the Qur'an.

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.

The judges said the prosecution had "categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt". In addition to citing the Qur'an, the judges also referenced Shakespeare's King Lear, saying Bibi was "more sinned against than sinning".

But critics say the laws have often been used to get revenge after personal disputes, and that convictions are based on thin evidence.

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