Pakistan frees woman facing death penalty for 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

Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman accused of blasphemy on Wednesday.

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

"This appeal is, therefore, allowed, the conviction and sentence of the appellant recorded and upheld by the courts below are set aside and she is acquitted of the charge by extending the benefit of doubt to her", he stated.

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

The Vatican had also appealed and called for the release of Ms Bibi, and Pope Francis met with her husband, Ashiq Masih, and daughter earlier this year.

Mother-of-four Asia Bibi has been on death row since 2010 when she fell foul of the country's extremist blasphemy laws.

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Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 and convicted in 2010 under section 295-C of Pakistan's penal code that punishes blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad with the death penalty.

Blasphemy against Islam and its Prophet is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the crime can carry a compulsory death sentence.

In 2016, her family gave a statement from Bibi to an Italian newspaper, La Stampa, saying, "I forgive my persecutors, those who have falsely accused me, and I await their forgiveness.I do not hate those who did me wrong".

Supporters of Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), which was founded to support Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, immediately condemned the ruling and blocked roads in Karachi, the country's largest city, and in the city of Lahore.

Bibi's legal team celebrated the court's decision amid beefed-up security in Islamabad after religious hardliners had vowed to protest any acquittal of the case. A case was filed against Bibi by an Imam in Katanwala village who alleged that Bibi had confessed to committing blasphemy, the lawyer said. The chief justice had also directed news channels to not discuss the case. Public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong. "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".

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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