Protests in Pakistan delay release of woman acquitted of blasphemy

Aasia Bibi

On Wednesday, the top court acquitted Aasia Bibi - a Christian woman accused of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death - and set aside an earlier judgment passed by a lower court.

The BBC reports that Muhammad Afzal Qadri, leader of the radical Tehreek-i-Labaik party, has said the three judges who delivered the decision "deserve to be killed".

The illiterate Christian farm worker had angered Muslim co-workers on 14 June 2009 by drinking from the shared cup when she brought them a bucket of water as they picked crops together on a sweltering summer's day.

Bibi, an illiterate Christian farmhand, was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 after her fellow Muslim farmworkers accused her of insulting Islam. All roads in major cities in the country have been blocked as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TLP) called for a shutter-down strike. "This is wonderful news", Asia Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, said.

Human rights activists hailed the verdict and demanded state protection for Asia Bibi, her family, and supporters. A spokesman for the organization said, "We are relieved to hear that the Pakistani Supreme Court has dropped the charges against Asia Bibi-charges that were based simply on her Christian identity and false accusations against her".

There was no official word on the plan to clear the mobs but security sources said that all options were being considered.

After the argument, Bibi was assaulted at her home; her accusers said that during the assault she confessed to blasphemy.

Another Islamist group, the Millie Yakjehti Council, is also meeting on Thursday to discuss Bibi's case and may launch protests.

She has also been a target for hardline Islamists in Pakistan, who have vowed to retaliate if she's released.

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The cabinet discussed the overall law and order situation in the country arising out of the Supreme Court's (SC) verdict in the Aasiya Bibi blasphemy case. Islamists in Pakistan's largest city of Karachi and in the northwestern city of Peshawar were also gathering for the protests.

The acquitted woman - Asia Bibi - was facing the death penalty for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam.

At a protest in the capital Islamabad, a banner carrying an image of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who murdered Taseer, was raised over a stage, as a few hundred demonstrators listened to devotional songs and sermons.

Nationwide rallies have also been held with videos uploaded onto the internet showing shoes and stones being hurled at Pakistan's new prime minister and supporter of Ms Bibi Imran Khan, sparking fears of violence in the nation.

Ghulam Mustafa, a lawyer representing a provincial cleric in Punjab who had filed the initial blasphemy charges, asked the supreme court to review her acquittal.

TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded the capital Islamabad for several weeks past year calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

According to the blasphemy laws in Pakistan's Penal Code, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is a crime punishable by death, while offending the ‎ Koran, Islam holy book, incurs life imprisonment.

Bibi did not appear in the courtroom and her whereabouts were a closely held secret for fear of attacks on her and her family. "They are using language that enemies use. only for their self serving politics", he said.

Asia Bibi, who was born in 1971 and has four children, was the first woman to be sentenced to death under the laws.

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