Tuesday 17 September 2019

Christian facing gallows spared by court

Relief: Asia Bibi’s blasphemy conviction has been overturned. Photo: Getty Images
Relief: Asia Bibi’s blasphemy conviction has been overturned. Photo: Getty Images

Colin Freeman

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman facing execution for blasphemy in Pakistan, has had her conviction overturned by the country's highest court.

In a ruling that will anger the country's Islamic hardliners, Ms Bibi (47) was told she would no longer face the gallows after nearly a decade on death row.

Extremist religious groups immediately condemned the decision, called for the death of the judges and blocked highways in protest.

The mother-of-four was convicted in 2010 of defaming the Prophet Mohammad during a row with Muslim women over drinking water as they picked berries in their village.

Her plight led to international condemnation of Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, with Pope Benedict XVI publicly calling for the charges against her to be dismissed. Militant Islamic clerics, however, put a €5,000 bounty on her head, while two prominent liberal Pakistani politicians who came to her defence have also been assassinated.

Ms Bibi appeared to be in a state of disbelief after hearing the decision from her lawyer.

"I can't believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?" she told news service AFP by phone from prison after yesterday's ruling. "I just don't know what to say, I'm very happy, I can't believe it."

The ruling was welcomed by her family, who have spent years in hiding as a result of death threats over the case.

Ms Bibi's daughter, Eisham Ashiq (18), said: "This is the most wonderful moment in my life. I want to thank God.

"I want to hug my mother and then celebrate with my family. I am grateful to God for listening to our prayers."

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