Asia Bibi – a Christian woman who was accused of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to death – has been aquitted by the Supreme Court, who overruled an earlier judment by a lower court.
A three-judge special bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Miankhel, heard the appeal after a three-year hiatus.
The hearing lasted nearly three hours, during which both the prosecution and defence presented their case over the conviction.
The proceeding was attended by members of civil society, and even some politicians like Farhatullah Babar. A few religious clerics also attended the case inside and outside the courtroom.
The media had been restricted from discussing, publishing or airing any comment about the proceedings till the judgment was announced. The bench pointed out several discrepancies in the statements of the prosecution witnesses during the hearing.
Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, heading the three-member bench comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, read the verdict and announced that the Lahore High Court (LHC) verdict was set aside. Authorities have been directed to release Aasia Bibi from prison immediately.
“The appeal is allowed. She has been acquitted. The judgement of the high court as well as the trial court is reversed. Her conviction is set aside.”Justice Khosa
The apex court added that Aasia is to be set free if she is not wanted in any other case.
Security has been beefed up in major cities as religious parties have come out to protest the decision. In Lahore, major roads have been blocked by the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), while party supporters have gathered outside the Punjab Assembly led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi.
Asia Bibi, who is 51 years old, had been on death row since November 2010 after she was convicted on charges of committing blasphemy during an argument with two Muslim women in Sheikhupura.
Her case gained prominence after then Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer pleaded for a retrial and was shot dead by one of his guards, Mumtaz Qadri, in January 2011.
The LHC had upheld the death sentence after Asia Bibi had challenged the verdict in 2014. The Supreme Court had stayed the execution in July 2015.