Christian woman's release in Pakistan sparks protests, threats

Had the judges not ruled in her favor, and without presidential clemency, Bibi would have become the first woman and first non-Muslim hanged under Pakistan's strict anti-blasphemy law, which carries a mandatory penalty of death.

The Supreme Court acquitted Bibi on charges of making "derogatory remarks" about the Muslim prophet Muhammad, ruling that the evidence against her appeared fabricated and insufficient.

"Pakistan was the second state that was created in the name of Islam and its law is based on the Islamic law", Imran Khan said, adding that the Supreme Court (SC) followed that law in their verdict of Asia Bibi case.

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. Coutts noted. "But we will not give up".

"The Muslim generals of the army, it is their responsibility that they should launch a rebellion against these generals", Afzal Qadri - a TLP leader - told supporters in Lahore.

Taseer had also called for Bibi's release and his son Shahbaz tweeted "Pakistan Zindabad" ("Long live Pakistan") following the ruling.

"It is great news for Pakistan and rest of the world", Bibi's lawyer Saiful Mulook told Reuters.

Prime Minister Khan addressed the nation through a video message and his address was exclusively focused on the Asia Bibi verdict. The Red Zone in the capital Islamabad, where the Supreme Court is located, has been sealed off by police.

After the verdict, protests erupted across the country, as hundreds of people from religious parties took to roads and highways in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Karachi and elsewhere.

By late afternoon, two other religious movements, including one headed by Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head for his alleged involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, announced that they would also join the protests.

In November, TLP staged a crippling blockade of Islamabad after small changes to a religious oath, which it claims was tantamount to blasphemy. 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.

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. This was later construed by the enraged mob as an insult to Prophet Mohammed, which falls under the purview of the blasphemy laws in the country.

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.

Although Pakistan has sentenced offenders to death under the law, Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for committing blasphemy.

Bibi, a day laborer, was arrested after a dispute with women with whom she was picking berries.

According to the NCJP national director, God has listened to her prayers and the prayers of all of us, including those of the good-hearted Muslim brothers and sisters who believe in justice.

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


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