Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

Pakistan frees Christian woman facing death penalty for blasphemy

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010
Credit
Reuters Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010 Credit Reuters
| 31 October, 2018, 12:12

If her death sentence had been carried out, Bibi would have been the first person executed by the state under the blasphemy laws.

They alleged Ms Bibi's response included three offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad.

Salman Taseer, a prominent businessman and governor of the Punjab province, who had supported Bibi and called for blasphemy law reforms, was shot dead by his own guard in 2011.

Her lawyers said the prosecution case was full of contradictions.

The charges against Bibi date back to a hot day in 2009 when she went to get water for her and her fellow farmworkers. "She be released from jail forthwith, if not required in any other criminal case", historic verdict said.

Shortly after the ruling, hundreds blocked a key road linking Rawalpindi with Islamabad. Authorities have stepped up security at churches around the country. Islamists gathered in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, in the northwestern city of Peshawar and elsewhere. Similar rallies are being held elsewhere as police urge demonstrators to disperse peacefully.


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

This morning's hearing was Ms Bibi's final appeal against execution.

On October 13, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, a political party, had threatened to "paralyse the country within hours if the Supreme Court sets Asia Bibi free", according to Dawn.

She was asked to fetch water, but the Muslim women objected, saying that as a non-Muslim she was unfit to touch the water bowl. The chief justice had also directed news channels to not discuss the case.

She appealed to the Lahore High Court, which upheld the decision in October 2014, with Ms Bibi denying all charges and taking the case to the Supreme Court. When they demanded she convert to Islam, she refused, prompting a mob to later allege that she had insulted the prophet Mohammed.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the the capital punishment for breaking them has drawn concern from global rights organizations, "not least because they are sometimes misused to settle feuds, grab land, or persecute religious minorities by making false allegations", NPR's Phillip Reeves has reported. Bibi's case was closely followed internationally amid concern for Pakistan's religious minorities, who have frequently come under attack by extremists in recent years. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hardliners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.

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