Pakistan judges praised for courage in overturning death sentence

Aasia Bibi

Aasia Bibi

Bibi's case attracted global scrutiny of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law and its lack of tolerance for religious minorities more broadly, with the U.S. Commission on worldwide Religious Freedom saying it "illustrates the extent to which blasphemy laws can be exploited to target minority communities". Her legal team fought a tough legal battle ever since.

I no longer see them, but I still hear them, the crowd who gave the judge a standing ovation, saying: "Kill her, kill her!"

Bibi's case has been at the heart of growing national turmoil over the laws and punishments for those accused of blasphemy against Islam and Muhammad.

Bibi's lawyer on Wednesday called the court ruling "great news" for Pakistan. The people who spoke up for her were threatened and even killed'. Bibi was harvesting berries with other farmworkers when she was asked to get water from a well.

She was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim. The Muslim women gathered, bitter arguments ensued and the women kept pressuring Bibi to convert to Islam.

The Muslim women became enraged, and Bibi fled amid shouting and spitting. A police investigation followed, prompting her arrest.

She was immediately charged with the crime and put in prison.

The TLP threatened to paralyse cities if Bibi's conviction was overturned. Taseer's killer, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged in 2016 for the murder. In 2018, Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan's interior minister, was another public figure to be shot and injured for speaking out against the blasphemy laws.

On the eve of judgment, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, chief of the religious political party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), warned against any decision in favour of Bibi and said that if that happened, the whole country would be brought to a standstill.

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The landmark ruling has already set off violent protests by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws. In many cities of Punjiab there are demonstrations and roadblocks.

Reports say TLP was directly linked to the protests in Lahore, which involved blocking traffic on several main roads.

The surprise ruling is likely to intensify months of intermittent conflict between the anti-blasphemy movement and civilian authorities, who were forced to back down late past year when the group staged a weeks-long protest that blocked the major highway between Islamabad and nearby Rawalpindi.

On Wednesday, however, judges upheld the blasphemy law but said prosecutors could not prove Bibi violated it.

During the appeal hearing on October 8, a three-member panel of Supreme Court justices appeared to question the case against her, with Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, considered Pakistan's top expert in criminal law, listing flaws in the proceedings.

Those found guilty of blasphemy in Pakistan often fall victim to extrajudicial killings by Islamic zealots before the death penalty can be administered.

"Those who try to change the situation, such as those who demand the abolition of the blasphemy law, are usually dismissed", Cdl.

The priest invoked blessings on the judges for delivering justice.

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