Pakistan Acquits Christian On Death Row

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A hard-line Islamist party in Pakistan has called for the death of the judges who overturned the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy. She has been acquitted.

Ms Bibi's case has been high on the agenda of religious hardliners in Pakistan, many of whom are fiercely opposed to her release.

Chief Justice Saqib Nisar read the ruling from the bench in Islamabad, saying the prosecution "categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt", the BBC reports.

The Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) two weeks ago organized a mass anti-blasphemy rally calling on Bibi to be executed as the court waited to release its verdict on her final appeal.

Bibi's case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated.

After the acquittal, large crowds gathered outside the court demanding her conviction to be upheld.

The Vatican had also appealed and called for the release of Ms Bibi, and Pope Francis met with her husband, Ashiq Masih, and daughter earlier this year.

"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 told AFP.

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Asia Bibi was convicted for blasphemy under Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code for allegedly defaming Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him).

Insulting Islam's prophet is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and blasphemy accusations stir such emotions that they are nearly impossible to defend against. "We knew that she is innocent". In addition to citing the Qur'an, the judges also referenced Shakespeare's King Lear, saying Bibi was "more sinned against than sinning".

The woman alleged that in the row which followed, they said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam, and that she made three offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.

After five days of this argument between the women, a Muslim cleric lodged a complaint against Asia after a mob of Muslims beat her and forced her to confess.

She was then told off by a Muslim neighbor, who turned to other Muslim women in the area to tell them the Christian devotee had dirtied the water by drinking from their cup.

Under the law in Pakistan, insulting Islam is punishable by death. The law does not define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.

The top court had first taken up the appeal in October 2016, but had to adjourn the matter without hearing after one of the judges recused himself from the SC bench.

In 2010, Punjab's then-governor Salmaan Taseer and then-federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both killed for championing Bibi's cause.