Acquittal Of Asia Bibi Sparks Protest Across Pakistan And Death Threats From Religious Extremists

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New Delhi: Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam nearly eight years ago, sparking protests in several cities across the country and death threats from religious extremists.

A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had earlier reserved its decision on Asia’s appeal on October 8. On Wednesday, amid great tension and tight security at the apex court, the judgement was read out by the Chief Justice, who cited the Quran in his ruling.

“The judgement of the (Lahore) high court and that of the trial court is reversed,” Nisar said, adding Asia should be set free from a jail in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, if she wasn’t wanted in any other case.

“Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges,” the judgement said. The 56-page judgement was authored by Nisar, with a separate concurrent opinion note from Justice Asif Saeed Khosa. “Tolerance is the basic principle of Islam,” Nisar read from the judgement, noting that religion condemns injustice and oppression.

Reports suggested that Asia and her family would be flown out of Pakistan to a Western country to ensure their safety. Asia appeared to be in a state of disbelief after hearing the verdict. “I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?” she told AFP by phone from prison. “I just don’t know what to say, I am very happy, I can’t believe it.”

Within hours of the Supreme Court’s order, activists of different religious parties came out on the streets, vandalised cars and blocked roads. The head of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Hussain Rizvi, started a sit-in opposite the Punjab provincial assembly in Lahore with hundreds of supporters. Jamaat-u-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed called for protests after Friday prayers.

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