Pakistani court acquits Christian woman on death row for blasphemy

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Pakistan's Supreme Court has acquitted a Christian woman who has been on death row for nearly eight years on blasphemy charges.

Bibi appeared to be in state of disbelief after hearing that Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had quashed her conviction almost eight years after she was first sentenced to death. Meanwhile, Bibi's husband Ashiq said Asia is confident she will soon be released from prison.

Party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said: "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".

David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, an organization that lobbies on behalf of Christian minorities, said in a statement that "we are breathing a sigh of relief today".

A trial court sentenced Bibi to death on complaints that she had insulted Islam and the prophet Muhammad. "I just don't know what to say, I am very happy, I can't believe it".

The case came into the spotlight a few months after Bibi's conviction, when the then governor of central Punjab province Salman Taseer was killed by one of his police guards for defending her and calling for changes in the law to stop its misuse. Consequently, the conviction as also the sentence of death awarded to the appellant is set aside and she is acquitted of the charge.

Tahir Khalil Singh, one of Asia Bibi's lawyers, told Premier: "I am so satisfied".

Bibi was arrested in 2009 after a quarrel with Muslim women.

Asia Bibi was accused of blasphemy in 2010 after a row over water with neighbours.

Street protests were spreading by mid-afternoon, paralysing parts of Islamabad, Lahore and other cities.

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The landmark ruling is expected to anger Islamists who've threatened to launch nationwide protests if the court freed her.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the the capital punishment for breaking them has drawn concern from worldwide rights organizations, "not least because they are sometimes misused to settle feuds, grab land, or persecute religious minorities by making false allegations", NPR's Phillip Reeves has reported.

Human rights groups say Pakistan's blasphemy laws are exploited to settle personal scores.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan is set to announce much awaited judgment in Aasia Bibi case on Wednesday.

A special three-person bench headed by Pakistan's top judge, Chief Justice Saqib Nasir, is due to deliver the verdict at 9am local time (0400 GMT), according to a notice by the court.

Insulting Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor of blasphemy can ignite lynchings.

In recent years, it has also been weaponised to smear dissenters and politicians.

Taseer had also called for Asia Bibi's release.

Analysts have warned the tactic could deepen sectarian fractures and potentially spill into violence.

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