United Nations hails acquittal of Asia Bibi by Pakistan’s Supreme Court

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010 Credit Reuters

Talking tough, Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan Wednesday told hardliners not to "confront the State" and refrain from vandalism after the Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman sentenced to death for committing blasphemy.

The BBC reports that Muhammad Afzal Qadri, leader of the radical Tehreek-i-Labaik party, has said the three judges who delivered the decision "deserve to be killed".

Bibi outlines the difficulties she faced just by being in the Christian minority in her village; she was paid less than her Muslim co-workers in the fields, and expected to fill a larger bowl with berries for the same pay.

She was threatened, beaten up twice, arrested, imprisoned and the following year convicted under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, for defiling the name of Muhammad.

Blasphemy is a massively inflammatory charge in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its Prophet Mohammed can provoke death at the hands of vigilantes.

The party has launched street protests blocking roads in major cities to condemn the ruling, which was welcomed by human rights advocates.

Her husband, Ashiq Masih, praised the court's decision.

Earlier, he commented on the Supreme Court's verdict to acquit Aasiya Bibi in the blasphemy case.

The whereabouts of Bibi and her family are unclear, and speculation is growing that she will leave Pakistan with her family, who have been in hiding for much of the past eight years.

Citing the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Al Jazeera notes, "There are still roughly 40 people on death row or serving life sentences for blasphemy, in Pakistan". She was tried in a court and sentenced to death.

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"The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country's most vulnerable minorities", he said.

After the argument, Bibi was assaulted at her home; her accusers said that during the assault she confessed to blasphemy.

Khan, who has previously caused concern with his full-throated defence of blasphemy laws during his recent election campaign, vowed on Wednesday to hit back against hardliners inciting violence, saying the inflammatory rhetoric would only benefit "Pakistan's enemies". "Her conviction is set aside", said Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar in the ruling.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Islamists blocked a key road linking the capital, Islamabad, with the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Thursday, demanding that Ms. Bibi be publicly hanged.

On Thursday, a lawyer representing a local cleric who had raised the initial blasphemy charges against Bibi petitioned the Supreme Court to reverse its acquittal. "Asia Bibi acquitted of charges", said Justice Nisar.

Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan addressed the nation amidst nationwide protests against Asia Bibi's acquittal.

The education institutions were also closed in Punjab, while private schools were closed in Khyber-Pakhtukhwa provinces as well as in cities like Karachi and Islamabad.

She was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. "They are using language that enemies use. only for their self serving politics", he said.

The TLP, which won two million votes in the elections last July and makes enforcing blasphemy laws one of their chief political issues, warned of "terrible consequences" the day after her appeal was heard. She immediately appealed. The Lahore High Court upheld the conviction in 2014, which she then appealed to the country's Supreme Court.

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