Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, Dawn reported. Bibi had appealed against the Lahore High Court’s order that in 2014 upheld the death sentence given earlier by a trial court.
“The judgement of the High Court and that of the trial court is reversed,” said Chief Justice Saqib Nasar, as he ordered Bibi’s release unless she is required on any other charges. The matter was decided by a three-judge bench, which had reserved its verdict on October 8.
Bibi was set to be released immediately according to the court, reported AFP. It is not clear if any security arrangements have been made for her protection.
“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 said.
Protests broke out in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Multan after the verdict. At least 1,000 people wielding clubs blocked Islamabad’s main highway while several roads in Karachi were barricaded by protestors.
The Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, one of the most vocal groups leading the protests, called for mutiny against the Army’s top brass. “The Muslim generals of the army, it is their responsibility that they should launch a rebellion against these generals,” said Afzal Qadri, one of the group’s leaders.
Islamabad was put on high alert with extra security forces on Tuesday night ahead of the verdict. On October 13, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan, a political party, had threatened to “paralyse the country within hours if the Supreme Court sets Asia Bibi free”, according to Dawn.
Asia Bibi was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a group of women in her neighbourhood near Lahore in 2009. The women had said they could no longer use a cup from which Bibi had had water, because of her religion. Bibi later acknowledged she had used “hot words” during the argument that followed, but claimed to have not said anything blasphemous, BBC reported. She has spent most of the last eight years in solitary confinement.
In 2011, Salman Taseer, who was then the governor of Punjab province, was assassinated by a bodyguard in Islamabad, days after he expressed support for Bibi.
According to a 2018 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, around 40 people are believed to be on death row or serving a life sentence in Pakistan for blasphemy.