Pakistan clears Christian woman in landmark blasphemy case

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Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted a Christian woman convicted for blasphemy, prompting protests by far-right groups that have been demanding her execution for years.
Aasia Bibi was cleared of all blasphemy charges and authorities were ordered to release her after nine years on death row, Chief Justice Saqib Nisar announced in the capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday.
“This appeal is allowed. The judgements of the High Court, as well as the Trial Court, are reversed. Consequently, the conviction as also the sentence of death awarded to the appellant is set aside and she is acquitted of the charge,” Nisar told a packed courtroom.
Bibi, 53, a native of the central Pakistan village of Ithan Wali, was accused by two Muslim women of having insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and the Quran during an argument sparked by their refusal to drink water from the same vessel as her in 2009.
She was convicted and sentenced to death by a trial court in November 2010, with the Lahore High Court upholding her conviction four years later.
Rights groups and Bibi’s lawyers, however, argued that there were numerous fair trial concerns in her case, one that became emblematic of such concerns in many cases under Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws.
Blasphemy against Islam and its Prophet is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the crime can carry a compulsory death sentence.
Increasingly, blasphemy accusations have resulted in mob lynchings and extrajudicial murders.
At least 74 people have been killed in violence related to blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally. Those killed include a provincial governor and a federal minister who stood up for Bibi when she was first accused in 2009.
On Wednesday, judges said they agreed that Bibi had not been tried fairly, noting “glaring and stark” contradictions in the prosecution’s evidence, and ordered her immediate release.
Justice Asif Khosa, writing in the full verdict, issued shortly after Wednesday’s announcement, said the truth had not been fully revealed during the trial.
“[There is] the irresistible and unfortunate impression that all those concerned in the case with providing evidence and conducting investigation had taken upon themselves not to speak the truth of at least not to divulge the whole truth,” he wrote.
“Aasia has gotten justice at last,” Bibi’s lawyer Saif-ul-Malook told Al Jazeera shortly after the verdict was announced. Amnesty International hailed Wednesday’s decision as a “landmark verdict.”“For the past eight years, Aasia Bibi’s life languished in limbo. Despite her protest of innocence, and despite the lack of evidence against her, this case was used to rouse angry mobs, justify the assassinations of two senior officials, and intimidate the Pakistani state into capitulation.”
the rights group said.
“Justice has finally prevailed. The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country’s most vulnerable minorities,” said Amnesty’s Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director.
There are still roughly 40 other peopleon death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy in Pakistan, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).