Asia Bibi: Pakistan lifts Christian woman's death sentence for blasphemy

A Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy sits next to Governor of the Punjab Province as he talks to media after visiting her inside the central jail in Sheikhupura

A Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy sits next to Governor of the Punjab Province as he talks to media after visiting her inside the central jail in Sheikhupura

Pakistan's Supreme Court overturned a Christian woman's conviction for blasphemy Wednesday and set aside the death sentence that was handed to her. Aasia Bibi was convicted under Pakistan's stringent anti-blasphemy law for allegedly making defamatory comments about Prophet Muhammad during a argument with Muslim women in 2009.

Asia Bibi, a mother of four, has been living on death row since 2010 when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. The two Muslim women who pressed charges against Bibi denied they quarrelled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked.

"Finally Asia Bibi has won", her lawyer, Saiful Malook, told The Times.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar read the ruling from the bench in Islamabad, saying the prosecution "categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt", the BBC reports.

David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, an organization that lobbies on behalf of Christian minorities, said in a statement that "we are breathing a sigh of relief today".

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

"I am very happy".

Speaking to Premier from Islamabad, Mehwish Bhatti from the British Pakistani Christian Association said: "There are so many blasphemy victims - Christian victims - who are still in prison and are on death sentence like Asia Bibi".

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.

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The women later went to a local cleric and accused Bibi of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet, a charge punishable by death under legislation that rights groups say is routinely abused to settle personal vendettas. The protests took part mainly in the city of Lahore, but demonstrations took place in other areas too, including Karachi and Rawalpindi.

Bibi's case is also high on the agenda of religious hardliners in Pakistan, many of whom are fiercely opposed to her release.

The Pakistani Supreme Court will decide Wednesday whether Asia Bibi will live or be executed.

A hardline Islamist party has threatened street protests if Bibi were to be freed or her sentence reduced.

In recent years, it has also been weaponised to smear dissenters and politicians.

Taseer had also called for Bibi's release.

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.

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

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