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Asia Bibi acquitted, death sentence in Pakistan overturned

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Charged with blasphemy, the Christian woman has spent almost a decade on death row

Pakistan’s highest court on Wednesday announced that they had overturned the conviction of Asia Bibi, the Catholic woman sentenced to death for violating that country’s harsh blasphemy laws.

Bibi was convicted in 2010 for insulting the prophet Muhammad during an argument with her neighbors in which she was beaten with sticks almost to the point of unconsciousness and later arrested and jailed.

“She has been acquitted. The judgement of high court as well as trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside,” said Pakistan’s Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, according to a Telegraph report.

Bibi, who spent most of the last eight years in solitary confinement reacted to the verdict with disbelief.

“I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?”  said Bibi over the phone according to the AFP news agency.

“We are very happy,”her husband Ashiq Masih said in a statement released by the Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“We thank God very much that he’s heard our prayers – and the prayers of so many people who have longed for Asia Bibi’s release over all these years of suffering and anguish,” said Masih.

It its ruling he judges found that the prosecution had “categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.” 

Bibi would have been the first woman to be executed for blasphemy in Pakistan. 

In its ruling, the judges wrote that the case against Bibi violated an important tenet of  Islam by failing to respect the faith of Christians.

“The Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) had declared that Christians, all of them, were his allies and he equated ill treatment of Christians with violating God’s covenant,” read the ruling.

“Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous,” concluded the judges.

Bibi’s case had prompted international condemnation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis were among those who called on the government to reverse the sentence.

The case has sparked clashes between hardline Muslims and more moderate politicians in Pakistan. In 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, and the Minister for Minorities Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, were both murdered for calling for Bibi’s acquittal and for the reform of the blasphemy laws.

In reaction to the ruling hardline Muslims demonstrated in the streets of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan according to the BBC. After she is freed, Bibi is expected to leave the country.

 

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