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

Geneva Stokes
October 31, 2018

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday (Oct 31) overturned the conviction of a Christian mother facing execution for blasphemy in a landmark case which has incited deadly violence and reached as far as the Vatican.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar headed a three-member bench that quashed her death sentence and ordered her release.

"The appeal is allowed".

She has been offered asylum by several countries and was expected to leave the country if acquitted. The judgment of high court as well as trial court is reversed. Bibi was later convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to death.

Bibi appealed her conviction to the Lahore High Court, which upheld the decision in October 2014, sending the case to Pakistan's Supreme Court.

"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 then told off by a Muslim neighbor, who turned to other Muslim women in the area to tell them the Christian devotee had dirtied the water by drinking from their cup.

She was later beaten up at her home, during which her accusers say she confessed to blasphemy. When they demanded she convert to Islam, she refused, prompting a mob to later allege that she had insulted the prophet Mohammed.

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Muslim women she was labouring with allegedly objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl.

Earlier, security in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital and the city where the country's Supreme Court is located, was heightened in view of the verdict.

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

Meanwhile, CJP Nisar had observed that committing blasphemy was the most appalling and spiteful offence, and not only "our laws but the fundamentals of our religion also place strict standards of proof to prove the crime".

Ms Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih hailed Wednesday's verdict.

Since her conviction, Mrs Bibi has spent her time in a filthy, 6ft by 9ft death row cell where she lives in fear of attack from other inmates.

On Twitter, a video circulated that showed young men on bikes riding through a dark road and shouting slogans, calling for the death of Asia Bibi.

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. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hard-liners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

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