Pakistani Christian on death row for blasphemy has death sentence overturned
A Christian Pakistani woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, after allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed during an argument over a cup of water, has had her conviction overturned. The Supreme Court decision has been greeted with angry protests and demands that both she – and the judges who set her free – should be hanged.
Asia Bibi, 53, who has been on death row since 2010, would have become the first person officially executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, and her case has incited deadly violence in the Muslim-majority country.
Moments after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction, protests erupted in several major cities across Pakistan, where thousands of Islamists demanded that Mrs Bibi be hanged.
“The patron in chief of TLP, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, has issued the edict that says the chief justice and all those who ordered the release of Asia deserve death,” said party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi.
At least a thousand club-wielding demonstrators have been blocking Islamabad’s main highway, as several roads in the port city of Karachi were barricaded by protesters sparking chaotic traffic jams.
Mrs Bibi was set to be released immediately according to the court, although there has been no word if any security arrangements were being made for her protection.
Speaking to MailOnline earlier this month, her husband said that if Mrs Bibi is set free, she and their entire family need to leave Pakistan for their own safety.
‘The circumstances are such that she would be unable to live in Pakistan as a free woman. She would not survive.’
‘The appeal is allowed. 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 in the ruling.
Ms Bibi appeared to be in state of disbelief after hearing the decision from her lawyer.
I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?’ Ms Bibi told AFP by phone from prison after the ruling. ‘I just don’t know what to say, I am very happy, I can’t believe it.’
As the good news reached Ms Bibi’s family, her daughter, Eisham Ashiq, 18, said: ‘I can’t wait to hug my mother. I am so happy.’
Speaking through an interpreter to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Ms Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih, added ‘We are very happy. This is wonderful news.
‘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.’
Finally: Ms Bibi’s husband Ashiq Masih and their daughter Eisham are pictured in the UK this month, during a tour of the UK speaking about her plight
Her legal team celebrated the court’s decision amid beefed-up security in Islamabad.
‘The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings,’ Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook told AFP.
‘This is the biggest and happiest day of my life.’
During the appeal hearing on October 8, a three-member panel of Supreme Court justices appeared to question the case against her, with Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, considered Pakistan’s top expert in criminal law, listing flaws in the proceedings.
‘I don’t see any derogatory remarks vis-a-vis the holy Koran as per the FIR,’ added Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, referring to the initial complaint filed in the case.
Ms Bibi’s case outraged Christians worldwide and has been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help her were assassinated, including Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot by his own bodyguard.
It is very unlikely that will be the last Islamist violence resulting from this case.