Freedom of Christian Woman Sentenced to Death Delayed Due to Mass Protests


A Christian woman acquitted in Pakistan after eight years on death row for blasphemy plans to leave the country soon, her family said Thursday, and authorities said they arrested two prisoners last month for conspiring to kill her.

Actually a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar amid great tension and tight security read out the judgment by citing the Quran in his ruling.

Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International, described the verdict as a "landmark decision".

Nearly simultaneously, followers of a hard-line Pakistani religious group rushed onto major highways across the country to paralyze traffic in protest of the decision.

The news of Pakistan's Supreme Court acquitting Aasia Bibi in a blasphemy case made it to the British Parliament Wednesday when the Prime Minister Theresa May was asked during the Question Hour to acknowledge and praise the decision.

Pakistani security forces deployed outside churches to protect minority Christians and urged demonstrators to disperse peacefully.

TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded the capital Islamabad for several weeks a year ago calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws. "They are doing their politics". "But if they opted to do so, the State will fulfil its responsibilities", Khan said. Bibi became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's blasphemy laws. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her release so that they can fly out of Pakistan.

Bibi's acquittal, however, has been seen as a hopeful sign by Christians in Pakistan, where the mere rumour of blasphemy can spark lynchings.

The trial stems from an argument Ms Bibi, whose full name is Asia Noreen, had with a group of women in June 2009. In 2015, the Pakistan Supreme Court accepted Asia Bibi's appeal against her death sentence.

Pakistan has about 2.5 million Christians.

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Politicians including new prime minister Imran Khan invoked blasphemy during a general election this summer, vowing to defend the laws.

It said Muslims constituted a majority of those prosecuted, followed by members of the Ahmadi, Christian, and Hindu minorities. They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas, and justify vigilante violence. It seems impossible for anyone coming out of gallows in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy.

Bibi's representatives have claimed she was involved in a dispute with her neighbours and that her accusers had contradicted themselves.

"I am afraid I will have to leave Pakistan".

Officials said Bibi is at a safe facility but that she still fears for her life and has trouble sleeping, fearing someone might harm her.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the US -based Wilson Center, called the ruling a "major legal milestone for Pakistan".

Asked about the protests, Mulook said it was "unfortunate but not unexpected".

"The increasing political clout of religious hard-liners, who boast the ability to mobilize in a big way, suggests that the state will be under more pressure than ever before", he said.

The blasphemy laws were promulgated by former military dictator Ziaul Haq in 1980s.