Pakistani court overturns blasphemy death penalty for Christian woman

Pakistan’s top court has ruled to release a woman who was on death row for allegedly insulting Islam. Pakistanis have demanded she be put to death during massive protests, and the decision has reportedly sparked new rallies.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammad and sentenced to death eight years ago. The court ordered the woman’s release on the condition that she is not wanted for any other charges.

The landmark decision, announced Wednesday morning, effectively challenges an earlier conviction by the Lahore High Court.

Bibi’s case triggered massive demonstrations across Pakistan calling for the woman to be executed. Islamic political party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), which organized the rallies, warned against freeing Bibi or reducing her sentence.

Wednesday’s decision has sparked fresh unrest. People gathered in Karachi and some roads were blocked in Baldia Town. Local police, however, have not officially linked the rallies to the court ruling.

The controversial case has received international responses as well. In 2010, now-retired Pope Benedict XVI joined the calls for her release. The current pontiff, Francis, met with Bibi’s family and called her a “martyr” earlier this year.

The incident, after which Bibi found herself nearly at the point of death, occurred in 2009 when she argued with a Muslim woman. The woman accused Bibi of making the water “unclear” when she saw her drinking it from a well.

As the spat unfolded, several women called Bibi a “filthy Christian” and told her to convert to Islam. But Bibi refused, questioning the Prophet Mohammad’s deeds “to save mankind” instead.

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