Pakistan high court scraps death sentence for woman accused of blasphemy

Bibi has been on death row since 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam

Bibi has been on death row since 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy against Islam

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) political party, led by firebrand Muslim leader Khadim Rizvi, organized rallies in cities across the South Asian country on Thursday, despite a warning from Prime Minister Imran Khan not to "force the government to have to take action".

One Islamic cleric closely associated with the TLP, Pir Afzal Qadri of the Aalmi Tanzeem Ahle Sunnat, issued a fatwa that any judge acquitting Asia Bibi should be punished by death.

Bibi was convicted under Pakistan's blasphemy law after a June 2009 altercation with fellow farm workers who refused to drink water she had touched, contending it was "unclean" because she was Christian.

She was then told off by a Muslim neighbor, who turned to other Muslim women in the area to tell them the Christian devotee had dirtied the water by drinking from their cup.

The top court in a landmark decision on Wednesday overturned Bibi's 2010 conviction of insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

If Salman Taseer were around today, he would be happy with this week's decision acquitting Asia Bibi, but anxious that she is still far from safe like others members of her community. She was held in solitary confinement for more than eight years.

Pakistan's most senior judges have been praised for their courage in overturning a death sentence passed on a Christian woman for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Blasphemy carries an automatic death sentence in Pakistan, but the government has never actually executed anyone for the offense.

PBS News learned from Bibi's family that the Christian mother plan to leave Pakistan soon.

The mere rumour of blasphemy can ignite mob violence and lynchings in Pakistan.

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The law does not clearly define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.

It is also worth remembering what this case alone has cost in terms of other lives lost for a principle - both the Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, and the federal minister for minorities' affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, had advocated bravely and publicly for Aasia Bibi's release.

The cabinet discussed the overall law and order situation in the country arising out of the Supreme Court's (SC) verdict in the Aasiya Bibi blasphemy case.

Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa, a lawyer for one of the plaintiffs, rejected the verdict, saying Bibi had confessed to making derogatory remarks against the Prophet to seek pardon.

Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010 in the lower court in Nanka district, a verdict confirmed four years later by the Lahore High Court. "Asia Bibi acquitted of charges", said Justice Nisar. The two Muslim women who pressed charges denied they quarrelled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked. "They are in fact enemies of Islam", Khan said.

TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded the capital Islamabad for several weeks previous year calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

At a protest in the capital Islamabad, a banner carrying an image of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who murdered Taseer, was raised over a stage, as a few hundred demonstrators listened to devotional songs and sermons.

However, it was not clear where she will go as several countries, including Canada, have offered asylum to her.

In a televised national broadcast late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the protesters the government would act against any prolonged blockade.

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