Major protests DELAY release of Christian woman sentenced for blasphemy

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010
Credit
Reuters

The Pakistan Supreme Court Wednesday overturned the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Roman Catholic woman convicted of blasphemy in 2010, after reserving judgment on the verdict earlier this month.

"We are not going to step back", radical Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) - which had threatened the judges with dire consequences if Asia Bibi was acquitted - said in a statement.

She was then told off by a Muslim neighbor, who turned to other Muslim women in the area to tell them the Christian devotee had dirtied the water by drinking from their cup. What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind? All roads in major cities in the country have been blocked as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TLP) called for a shutter-down strike.

Authorities said she is scheduled for release later this week, after which her plans are unknown.

Ashiq Mesih and Eisham Ashiq, Asia Bibi's husband and daughter, speak to CNA in Rome April 15, 2015.

Bibi maintained her innocence but spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement. Bibi, who has been in jail since she was first arrested in 2009, told AFP by phone from prison after the ruling.

Due to constant death threats, Asia Bibi will have to leave the country soon.

Also in 2011, a Christian minority minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, was shot dead at his home for defending Bibi and opposing the anti-blasphemy legislation.

The three-judge panel upheld the blasphemy law itself, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam's holy book, the Quran.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned Bibi's conviction and authorized her immediate release, ruling that the "prosecution had failed to prove its case against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt".

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"We will protect life and property of people.We will not let them (protestors) involve in vandalism or close down the roads", he said, referring to protestors blocking a highway linking the capital Islamabad with garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Several days later, a man, Qari Muhammad Salaam, lodged a complaint with the police, claiming Bibi had used derogatory language for the prophet of Islam in front of the other women.

A lawyer representing a local cleric who had raised the initial blasphemy charges against Ms Bibi petitioned the supreme court on Thursday to reverse its acquittal.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar announced the long-awaited verdict.

New prime minister Imran Khan has cautiously sided with liberals, saying in a televised address that protesters were inciting people for their own political gain and saying they "are doing no service to Islam".

Protesters, rallied by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, also set up roadblocks and burned tires in the southern port city of Karachi while hundreds clashed Thursday with police in various parts of eastern Punjab province. And there are reports of mobs in the streets burning tires over the court's decision to release her. The following year she was sentenced to death.

Noting that many Muslims are also victims of the blasphemy laws, Fr. Yousaf said that the verdict is beneficial for all the citizens of Pakistan, irrespective of whether they are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh or of other faiths.

The case was based on flimsy evidence, they said, and proper procedures had not been followed.

And the Supreme Court's decision doesn't end the targeted use of Pakistan's blasphemy laws against religious minorities.

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