Protests break out after Pakistan court acquits Asia Bibi in blasphemy case

Aasia Bibi

Aasia Bibi

Pakistani Christian mother-of-five, Aasia Bibi, who has been on death row since November 2010 after being convicted under the country's notorious "blasphemy law", has been saved from hanging by a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court.

Bibi's acquittal has posed a challenge to the government of Pakistan's new Prime Minister Imran Khan, who came to power this summer.

The allegations against Ms Bibi date back to 2009, when she was working in a field and was asked to fetch water.

Ms Bibi, a 47-year-old farm worker, was jailed in 2010 and convicted shortly afterwards over charges of blasphemy.

Insulting Muhammad is a risky business these days.

Ashiq Mesih (R) and Eisham Ashiq, the husband and daughter of Asia Bibi, speak during an interview with AFP in London on October 12, 2018.

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Prime minister Khan addressed the nation through a video message and his address was exclusively focused on the Asia Bibi verdict. For almost eight years, Aasia Bibi, a poor Christian farmhand and mother of five, had her life languish in limbo.

Dozens of Pakistanis - including many minority Christians or members of the Ahmadi faith - have been sentenced to death for blasphemy in the past decade, though no one has actually been executed.

The Christian community has been targeted by numerous attacks in recent years, leaving many feeling vulnerable to a climate of intolerance.

Due to constant death threats, Asia Bibi will have to leave the country soon.

The mere rumour of blasphemy can ignite mob violence and lynchings in Pakistan, and combating alleged blasphemy has become a central rallying cry for hardline Islamists.

Pakistan's 295-C blasphemy law is based on sharia (Islamic law), which mandates execution for those found guilty of committing blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed.

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In overturning her conviction, the ruling said the evidence against Bibi was insufficient.

However, over 2,000 Islamists continued blocking a key road linking the capital, Islamabad, with the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday, causing traffic jams.

Asia Bibi's case gained even more prominence after the assassination of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province.

Groups of about 200 protesters from the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party sat under large tents, listening to speeches on two blocked roads in Karachi, a Reuters witness said. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hardliners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad. The apex court ordered her release. The Muslim women gathered, bitter arguments ensued and the women kept pressuring Bibi to convert to Islam. Masih would not disclose the country of her destination but both France and Spain have offered asylum. Afridi said they will get the routes blocked by protesters reopened "through wisdom", for which all institutions were in coordination with each other.

Under Pakistan's cruel, archaic blasphemy laws-first introduced by the British Raj in 1860 and strengthened under the military rule of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s-it is a crime to insult religious beliefs, willfully desecrate the Koran, or insult the Prophet.

The party also demanded Prime Minister Imran Khan's government be ousted following the court's order.

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TLP, founded in 2015, blockaded the capital Islamabad for several weeks past year calling for stricter enforcement of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws.

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