Published: Fri, November 02, 2018
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Pakistan high court scraps death sentence for woman accused of blasphemy

Pakistan high court scraps death sentence for woman accused of blasphemy

Pakistan's Supreme Court has finally put an end to the horrific ordeal of 47-year-old Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman from a village in Punjab province who has spent the past eight years of her life on death row.

Human rights activists have been actively seeking her release over the past several years to repeal the Pakistani court's death sentence.

Pakistan's Supreme Court announced Wednesday morning that it was acquitting Aasiya Noreen Bibi - better known as Asia Bibi. Bibi's lawyer from her original trial admitted that he did not openly challenge all the questionable prosecution evidence because he feared he would also be accused of blasphemy.

Since then, Islamists have blocked highways and damaged or set-fire to dozens of vehicles to pressure the government to stop her release from an undisclosed detention facility.

Hafiz Saeed, an influential Islamist whom the US accuses of being the mastermind of attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166, has called for protests after Friday afternoon prayers. Private schools in both cites were shut, as well as in the capital, Islamabad. "Police urged demonstrators to disperse peacefully". Authorities deployed paramilitary troops, signalling that they could move in to clear the roads.

Punjabi governor Salman Taseer was assassinated for speaking out on Bibi's behalf and calling for the country's blasphemy laws to be overhauled.

On Thursday, Salam filed a petition in the apex court's Lahore registry asking for a review of the verdict by the three-judge bench.

He addressed the nation through a video message and his address was exclusively focused on the Asia Bibi verdict.

The Supreme Court decision has already sparked protests.

Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging in November 2010 in the lower court in Nanka district, a verdict confirmed four years later by the Lahore High Court. "They are committing vandalism", he said.

Taseer had also called for Bibi's release and his son Shahbaz tweeted "Pakistan Zindabad" ("Long live Pakistan") following the ruling.

In February, Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih and one of her daughters met with Pope Francis to beg for his help.

Bibi's case started when, according to her autobiography, she sought to get some drinking water out of a well on a hot fruit-picking day.

The Supreme Court decision enraged hardline Islamists, in particular, members of a group called the Tehreek-e-Labaik, who have taken to the streets to call for the death of the judges who made the decision and the ouster of the government.

Military's spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said Friday the army was exercising restraint, to give a chance for a peaceful resolution.

Pakistan's state religion is Islam, and around 97% of the population is Muslim. A road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi was closed off by the protesters.

A police spokesperson in Lahore said that around 500 protesters had gathered outside the provincial Assembly and blocked roads in the area.

The woman was convicted in 2010 after she allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohammed in a quarrel with Muslim workers over a bowl of water.

Bibi has been in prison since 2009, when she was sentenced to hang for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Saif ul Malook, Bibi's lawyer, rejoices in his client's new freedom, but he suggests she is likely to leave the country for somewhere she feels safe.

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