Pakistan frees Christian woman facing death penalty for blasphemy

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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.

On October 8, the top court had reserved its judgment on the appeal of the Christian mother of four, who in 2010 became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy law. A case was filed against Bibi by an Imam in Katanwala village who alleged that Bibi had confessed to committing blasphemy, the lawyer said.

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

"I am very happy".

She was then beaten nearly unconscious with sticks before being thrown in jail, where she was sentenced 17 months later to death by hanging.

She has been offered asylum by several countries and was expected to leave the country if acquitted.

"The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings", Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook told AFP.

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

Aasia Bibi, 51, has been on the death row since November 2010. The protests took part mainly in the city of Lahore, but demonstrations took place in other areas too, including Karachi and Rawalpindi.

A trial court had convicted Aasia Bibi and sentenced her to death.

No one has ever been executed in Pakistan on blasphemy charges even though dozens have been jailed or extrajudicially killed, at times, in mob lynchings.

Her case drew the attention of worldwide rights groups and swiftly became the most high-profile in the country.

The verdict was announced by a special bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar while Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel were the other members of the three-judge bench.

Islamists have demanded her execution.

Supporters of Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan protest against the court decision to overturn the conviction of Christian woman Asia Bibi.

In recent years, it has also been weaponised to smear dissenters and politicians. In addition to citing the Qur'an, the judges also referenced Shakespeare's King Lear, saying Bibi was "more sinned against than sinning".

Salman Taseer, a prominent businessman and governor of the Punjab province, who had supported Bibi and called for blasphemy law reforms, was shot dead by his own guard in 2011.

Analysts have warned the tactic could deepen sectarian fractures and potentially spill into violence.