Pakistan court frees Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy

Asia Bibi

Asia Bibi

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday announced the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy in a case that has divided the South Asian country and sparked worldwide outrage.

"....this appeal is allowed".

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

The judgement has sparked a backlash from hardline Islamists who have called for the death of the chief justice of the Supreme Court and two other judges behind the ruling.

"I don't see any derogatory remarks vis-a-vis the holy Koran as per the FIR", added Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, referring to the initial complaint filed in the case. The court directed that Aasia Bibi be immediately released from jail if she is not wanted in any other cases.

Freedom for Bibi in Pakistan, where university students have been lynched and Christians burnt in ovens over blasphemy claims, means a life under threat by hardliners, who regularly hold demonstrations calling for her execution.

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The Vatican had also appealed and called for the release of Ms Bibi, and Pope Francis met with her husband, Ashiq Masih, and daughter earlier this year. What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind?

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

Aasia Bibi, 51, has been on the death row since November 2010. "We hope this time she will be completely exonerated and this wrongful conviction will finally be overturned as this is her last chance to be heard at court". The two Muslim women who pressed charges against Bibi denied they quarrelled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked.

The prosecution had claimed that Bibi "admitted" making the blasphemous statements at a "public gathering" on June 19, 2009 "while asking for forgiveness". The law does not clearly define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.

Supposedly her final appeal hearing on October 13 was meant to wind up the most high profile case of the country, however, it was delayed as one of the judges refused to be a part of the three member bench that was to hear the case. 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.

"There are also contradictions regarding how the notice of the incident was taken and the complainant has said the decision to register an FIR against Bibi was taken amid a group of people", he had upheld.

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