Pakistan court frees Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010 Credit Reuters

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday freed a Christian woman from a death sentence for blasphemy against Islam and overturned her conviction, sparking angry protests and death threats from an ultra-religious party and cheers from human rights advocates.

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

A Christian woman in Pakistan on death row for almost a decade after she allegedly contaminated a water jug - an offense viewed as blasphemy in the Muslim country - was acquitted by the country's top court on Wednesday. In, 2014, Lahore High Court (LHC) had upheld the verdict.

The ruling was read out by Chief Justice Saquib Nisar at the Supreme Court in Islamabad.

According to available information, Aasiya Bibi also known as Asia Bibi was allegedly involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries after the other women objected to a non-Muslim touching the bowl in which she fetched water. "We knew that she is innocent", said Ashiq Masih.

Following the announcement of Wednesday's verdict, the Pakistani Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labaik, or TLP, called for the death of the court's chief justice and two other judges who overturned the conviction.

The charges against Bibi date back to a hot day in 2009 when she went to get water for her and her fellow farmworkers. Bibi was later convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Five days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy. Both men supported Bibi and had called for an end to Pakistan's Blasphemy Law.

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Paramilitary troops have been deployed in Islamabad to prevent protesters from reaching the Supreme Court, where security has been stepped up up to protect the judges and authorities have also put security in place at churches around the country. The law does not clearly define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.

Prosecutors alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made three offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.

Bibi's supporters maintain her innocence and insist it was a personal dispute, and the Vatican has called for her release.

"Asia Bibi has finally been served justice", lawyer Saiful Mulook said.

Asia Bibi appeared to be in state of disbelief after hearing the decision from her lawyer.

Her case gained prominence after then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer pleaded for a retrial of her case and was subsequently shot dead by one of his guards, Mumtaz Qadri, in January, 2011.

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