Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy freed

Aasia Bibi

Bibi's case attracted global scrutiny of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law and its lack of tolerance for religious minorities more broadly, with the U.S. Commission on worldwide Religious Freedom saying it "illustrates the extent to which blasphemy laws can be exploited to target minority communities".

The meeting was held shortly after PM Imran addressed the nation and warned agitators that state will not be cowed down by threats and will fulfill its responsibility of protecting the life and property of people.

Supporters of Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), which was founded to support Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, immediately condemned the ruling and blocked roads in Karachi, the country's largest city, and in the city of Lahore.

The mainstream television channels in Pakistan avoided covering the protests and moved on to other news after announcing the court's verdict.

The TLP's leadership called for the death of Nasif, the chief justice, and two other judges on the panel.

For hours the acquittal was met with near silence on the country's airwaves as broadcasters appeared to steer clear of covering the controversial topic.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisarm, who read out the verdict, said October 31 that Bibi is free to leave the prison in Sheikhupura, Pakistan.

The judges, who took no issue with death as punishment for blasphemy, said that in this case they were bound to honour the accused's presumption of innocence, which they found had been violated. He urged his followers to "be prepared for any sacrifice if Asia Bibi is acquitted".

Bibi's case has been high on the agenda of religious hardliners in Pakistan, many of whom are fiercely opposed to her release. "Will they let me out, really?" Bibi told AFP by phone from prison after the ruling.

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Asia Bibi's daughter, Eisham Ashiq, 18, told Aid to the Church in Need: "I am so happy".

Since her arrest, Bibi has garnered global support from numerous world leaders calling for her immediate release, including Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.

Dozens of Pakistanis - including many minority Christians or members of the Ahmadi faith - have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in the past decade, though no one has actually been executed.

People listen to Khan's address in Pakistan.

The women then beat her and her daughters and pushed by the local imam and a group of men, they accused her of blasphemy. The alarming answer is quite evident from the widespread nationwide protests that have already surfaced in Pakistan within minutes of the historic judgement by Pak Supreme Court which ordered her release and revoked her death sentence.

"I don't see any derogatory remarks vis-a-vis the holy Koran as per the FIR", added Chief Justice Nisar, referring to the initial complaint filed in the case.

Supporters of a Pakistani religious group block a main road after a court decision in Islamabad, Pakistan, Oct. 31, 2018. A few months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities, was killed for lobbying for a change in the country's blasphemy laws, which are widely believed to be often misused to settle disputes. Her family, who have lived in hiding for years due to the security threats, were not present in the courtroom.

The killer, 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged by the Government for murder in 2016, but by then he had become a cause celebre and religious hero to many Sunni Muslims.

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