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Pakistan top court aquits Asia Bibi, overturns blasphemy death sentence

A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had earlier reserved its decision on Asia’s appeal on October 8.

world Updated: Nov 01, 2018 00:10 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times
asia bibi,pakistan,blasphemy
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam nearly eight years ago, sparking protests in several cities across the country and death threats from religious extremists.(Reuters Photo)

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam nearly eight years ago, sparking protests in several cities across the country and death threats from religious extremists.

A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had earlier reserved its decision on Asia’s appeal on October 8. On Wednesday, amid great tension and tight security at the apex court, the judgement was read out by the Chief Justice, who cited the Quran in his ruling.

“The judgement of the (Lahore) high court and that of the trial court is reversed,” Nisar said, adding Asia should be set free from a jail in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, if she wasn’t wanted in any other case.

“Her conviction is set aside and she is to be relieved forthwith if not required in other charges,” the judgement said. The 56-page judgement was authored by Nisar, with a separate concurrent opinion note from Justice Asif Saeed Khosa. “Tolerance is the basic principle of Islam,” Nisar read from the judgement, noting that religion condemns injustice and oppression.

Reports suggested that Asia and her family would be flown out of Pakistan to a Western country to ensure their safety. Asia appeared to be in a state of disbelief after hearing the verdict. “I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?” she told AFP by phone from prison. “I just don’t know what to say, I am very happy, I can’t believe it.”

Within hours of the Supreme Court’s order, activists of different religious parties came out on the streets, vandalised cars and blocked roads. The head of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Hussain Rizvi, started a sit-in opposite the Punjab provincial assembly in Lahore with hundreds of supporters. Jamaat-u-Dawah chief Hafiz Saeed called for protests after Friday prayers.

A TLP leader, in a video circulated on social media, attacked Prime Minister Imran Khan and army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, calling them non-Muslims. He called on his supporters to kill the judges who gave the verdict.

In Islamabad, the main entry points at Faizabad and Peshawar Morh were blocked by supporters. In Karachi, the main Karachi-Hyderabad highway was blocked and parts of the city’s main thoroughfare, MA Jinnah Road, were closed by protestors.

The government imposed Section 144 of CrPC in Punjab and Sindh provinces, prohibiting the holding of rallies and carrying of arms. Asia, a 47-year-old mother of four, was on death row since 2010 when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, which critics say are often misused to persecute minorities and to settle scores.

She was accused of making derogatory remarks about Prophet Mohammed by Muslim co-workers after an argument. Asia has always denied the charges. The case outraged Christians worldwide, with Pope Benedict XVI calling for Asia’s release in 2010. It was also a source of division within Pakistan.

First Published: Oct 31, 2018 23:07 IST