Pakistan acquits Christian woman facing death for blasphemy

Pak Supreme Court To Rule On Christian Woman Facing Death Over Blasphemy

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 global outrage.

"....this appeal is allowed".

A trial court had convicted Aasia Bibi and sentenced her to death. "The conviction and the sentence of death [are overturned]", said chief justice Saqib Nisar while announcing the verdict.

Asia Bibi's case drew the attention of worldwide rights groups and swiftly became the most high-profile in the country.

A trial court convicted Bibi for blasphemy in November 2010 and sentenced her to death.

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

On the day the court reserved its judgment, Saiful Malook, counsel for Aasia Bibi, had argued that the appellant had not committed blasphemy and was being "persecuted due to her religious beliefs".

Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious political party chant slogans during a protest on Wednesday against the court decision to overturn the conviction of Asia Bibi.

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To this, Justice Khosa had remarked, "From your statements we have gathered that the Imam himself did not witness the incident as it happened and no blasphemous words were said in his presence". A few days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy.

This morning's hearing was Ms Bibi's final appeal against execution.

The top court had first taken up the appeal in October 2016, but had to adjourn the matter without hearing after one of the judges recused himself from the SC bench.

She had been accused by three women who had an argument with her over fetching water at the farm they worked at back in June 2009 - refusing to drink from a bucket she had touched because she was not Muslim. The chief justice had also directed news channels to not discuss the case.

The governor of Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, was murdered in 2011 after he spoke in defence of Bibi and called for reform of blasphemy laws.

Mulook responded in the negative and said, "She was never a preacher". "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".

Islam is Pakistan's national religion and underpins its legal system. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hardliners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

Human rights groups say Pakistan's blasphemy laws are exploited to settle personal scores.

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