Pakistan overturns Christian woman Asia Bibi's blasphemy verdict, death sentence


Islamist protesters have blocked roads in Pakistan's major cities for a second day in opposition to a Supreme Court decision to acquit a Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the USA -based Wilson Center, called the court ruling a "major legal milestone for Pakistan".

Ms Bibi's case has been high on the agenda of religious hardliners in Pakistan, many of whom are fiercely opposed to her release.

Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy, in Pakistan.

In 2009, Bibi was getting water from a well when a Muslim woman declared that both the water and the vessels used to obtain it were now "haram", an Islamic term for things deemed religiously "forbidden" or "unclean".

Thus, Asia Bibi is not just another blasphemy convict in a deeply religious state, she has given a face to the evergoing tussle between religious fanaticism and freedom of thought.

The mere rumor of blasphemy can ignite mob violence and lynchings in Pakistan, and combatting alleged blasphemy has become a central rallying cry for hard-line Islamists. The leader of the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party also called for the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan's government over the case.

In 2011 Punjab province governor Salman Taseer was shot and killed by one of his guards for defending Ms Bibi and criticising the misuse of the blasphemy law.

"We should take every step to strengthen state-institutions and let not chaos prevail in the country", Shah was quoted as saying. All roads in major cities in the country have been blocked as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TLP) called for a shutter-down strike.

The largest province of Punjab, which was facing major protests, chose to close down schools for a day and also cancelled supplementary Secondary School Certificate examination.

There is a heavy police presence at the Supreme Court in Islamabad as many feared violence could break out.

Paramilitary troops deployed in Islamabad to prevent protesters from reaching the Supreme Court, where security for the judges was being beefed up.

He added that her family has moved to the United Kingdom.

The outburst over the divisive blasphemy law prompted Prime Minister Imran Khan to go on national TV to guarantee their safety and criticise those who made verbal attacks on Pakistan's institutions, including his government.

Inside Story - Should Pakistan's blasphemy laws change? But they said prosecutors had failed to prove that Bibi violated the law.

Rights groups say the laws are increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores. The case quickly garnered worldwide attention, with groups such as the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) fighting on her behalf. In addition to the demonstrations in the nation's capital, there was also unrest in numerous other cities, such as Karachi and Lahore.

"This is a landmark verdict", said Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International.

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

"We are very happy". "We are grateful to the judges for giving us justice".

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, who headed a special three-judge bench set up for the appeal, cited the Koran in the ruling, writing that "tolerance is the basic principle of Islam" and noting the religion condemns injustice and oppression.