Pakistan frees Christian woman facing death penalty for blasphemy

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We are grateful to God.

Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, had returned from Britain with their children in mid-October and was waiting for her to join them, the brother said.

Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, who had received death threats, announced the landmark verdict that fully overturned her 2010 conviction to a packed courtroom amid increased security.

The men in the streets were angry not only with Asia Bibi, but with the Supreme Court Justices who ruled there was not enough evidence to convict her of insulting the prophet Muhammed, and Prime Minister Imran Khan who has called for peace.

"The patron in chief of TLP, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, has issued the edict that says the chief justice and all those who ordered the release of Asia deserve death", said party spokesperson Ejaz Ashrafi. She has denied the charge. Two Muslim women refused to drink from a container used by a Christian.

After the argument, Bibi was assaulted at her home; her accusers said that during the assault she confessed to blasphemy. But after a year and more of a prison, she was sentenced to death.

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

The TLP was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer for advocating for Bibi in 2011. Later, the guard, Mumtaz Qadri, was hanged for the assassination - a move that infuriated supporters of firebrand Muslim cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who launched a violent drive to block any possible changes in the law.

Security has been stepped up near the facility where Ms Bibi is being held, authorities said.

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Demonstrations broke out in major cities across the country following the verdict, with approximately a thousand club-wielding demonstrators blocking Islamabad's main highway as several roads in the port city of Karachi were barricaded by protesters sparking chaotic traffic jams.

Hafiz Saeed, an influential Islamist whom the USA accuses of being the mastermind of attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166, has called for protests after Friday afternoon prayers.

Supporters of Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) immediately condemned Wednesday's ruling and blocked roads in major cities, pelting police with stones in the eastern city of Lahore.

Security was tight in capital Islamabad where paramilitary forces were deployed to protect the Supreme Court and others sensitive areas.

Ms Bibi's representatives have claimed she was involved in a dispute with her neighbours and her accusers had contradicted themselves.

Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Malook, has gone into hiding as the extremists had threatened his life as well.

Bibi was the first woman who was given death sentence under the blasphemy laws.

The three-judge panel upheld the blasphemy law itself, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam's holy book, the Qur'an. "They are in fact enemies of Islam", Mr Khan said. "It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant's name Asia means "sinful" but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare's King Leare, 'more sinned against than sinning'". Non-Muslims are especially vulnerable, but when religious fervour is so strong and the power of rumour so pervasive, the blasphemy laws can be used for personal vendettas against anyone.

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