Pakistan’s supreme court has struck down the death sentence for blasphemy handed down to Christian woman Asia Bibi, in a long-delayed, landmark decision that will free her after nine years on death row and has ignited countrywide protests from Islamist groups.
The Guardian (h/t Maurice) Christian farm labourer Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of five, was sentenced to hang for blasphemy in 2010. She had angered fellow Muslim farm workers by taking a sip of water from a cup she had fetched for them on a hot day. When they demanded she convert to Islam, she refused, prompting a mob to later allege that she had insulted the prophet Mohammed.
Bibi, who is the first woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, has remained in solitary confinement for the past eight years. Pakistani Muslims threatened violent jihad if Christian mother sentenced to death for ‘blasphemy’ is pardoned
The court, in a three-member bench led by the chief justice, Saqib Nisar, ordered Bibi’s release on Wednesday morning in Islamabad. By the afternoon, thousands of club-wielding demonstrators had blocked highways, burned tyres and pelted police with stones in major cities including Islamabad and Karachi.
Publication of the 56-page ruling was delayed for three weeks after blasphemy campaigners promised to “paralyse” the country and kill the judges if they did not uphold Bibi’s death sentence.
In a televised address after the verdict’s release, the prime minister, Imran Khan, issued a strong defence of the decision, terming it “according to the constitution and Pakistan’s constitution is according to the teachings of Islam”.