Pakistan Supreme Court on Wednesday accepted a petition and stayed the execution of a Christian woman over blasphemy challenging the conviction.
A three-member panel of judges heard the case in Supreme Court's Lahore registry and admitted Asia Bibi's petition for full hearing after initial arguments by her defence lawyer besides staying her execution till the matter is adjudicated.
Bibi, a mother of five, had a quarrel over a bowl of water with fellow Muslim women while working on a crop field. She was accused of uttering blasphemous words in the heat of arguments, which she denied.
Chaudhry Ghulam Mustapha, the lawyer for the complainant against Bibi -- a local Muslim prayer leader -- opposed the petition on the grounds that it had been filed too late. The lawyer said the blasphemy allegation was concocted by Bibi's enemies to target her and had no basis in fact.
Bibi was arrested in 2009 for allegedly passing the blasphemous remarks and convicted in 2010. Her death sentence was maintained by the Lahore High Court in October last year which she challenged in the Supreme Court.
Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in Pakistan, with even unproven allegations often prompting mob violence, and acquittals in court are rare.
Blasphemy laws were introduced by military rulers Zia-ul- Haq in 1980s and people accused under the laws are targeted by extremists.
When governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer criticised these laws in a meeting with Bibi after her first conviction, he first faced immense criticism from extremists and was later killed by his police guard in 2011.
Under Pakistan's stringent blasphemy laws, insulting the Prophet Mohammed carries the death penalty, though the country has never executed anyone for the crime.
Anyone convicted, or even just accused, of insulting Islam, risks a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.
Bonded labourer Shehzad Masih and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi were beaten by a mob of 1,500 people then thrown into a lit furnace last year in a crazed reaction to rumours they had thrown pages of the Koran into the garbage.
Critics including European governments say Pakistan's blasphemy laws are often misused to settle personal scores.
Christians, who make up around 1.6% of the country's 200 million people, are often discriminated against and marginalised by the Muslim majority.
(With inputs from AFP and PTI)