Pakistan to move forward by following principles of Islam: PM Khan

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010
Credit
Reuters

A Pakistani court sentenced Bibi to hang in 2010 for allegedly making "defamatory and sarcastic" comments about Mohammad after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

Bibi's case had become emblematic of fair trial concerns in cases Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, and on Wednesday judges found there had been "glaring and stark" contradictions in the prosecution's case against her.

The priest invoked blessings on the judges for delivering justice. In retaliation to their refusal to touch the water and amidst their demand for her to convert to Islam, Asia reportedly defended her own religion.

Her lawyer called the court ruling "great news" for Pakistan.

Prime Minister Khan addressed the nation through a video message and his address was exclusively focused on the Asia Bibi verdict. After the ruling was announced, there was heavy police presence around the Supreme Court in the capital Islamabad.

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.

The party has launched street protests blocking roads in major cities to condemn the ruling, which was welcomed by human rights advocates.

"Only enemies of the state call for execution of judges and rebellion against the army chief".

"They all three deserve to be killed".

Just a year later, Salman Taseer, the then governor of Punjab province was assassinated after he expressed his support towards Asia, highlighting the irrelevance of the existent blasphemy law. Federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed after calling for her release. Some schools in Islamabad sent students home early and long lines of cars formed at fuel stations as residents anxious about prolonged protests. Seven people were killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes with the police and TLP's supporters only dispersed after striking a deal with the military. Bibi, who has been in jail since she was first arrested in 2009, told AFP by phone from prison after the ruling.

With a riot-like situation slowly building in Pakistan after the Asia verdict, it might prove to be challenging for the Imran Khan government who had validated the blasphemy laws during his election campaign.

In Pakistan, where the mere allegation of blasphemy can lead to lynchings and murders before a court has even heard the evidence, Bibi's case ignited acute tension between the increasingly aggressive far-right anti-blasphemy movement and groups supporting leniency. In April 2017, 23-year-old liberalist Mashal Khan was lynched and brutalised to death by a large mob inside his university campus on unproven blasphemy charges.

Christians make up only about 2% of Pakistan's population and are often discriminated against.

Amnesty International's deputy South Asia Director, Omar Waraich, said: 'This is a landmark verdict and an important victory for religious tolerance in Pakistan. "The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country's most vulnerable minorities".

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