Blasphemy verdict is ray of hope for persecuted groups

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In 2009, the farm worker and mother of five from the small town of Itan Wali was arrested for blasphemy over an argument with some Muslim co-workers who allegedly claimed they couldn't drink from a cup of water she had touched, as her Christian faith contaminated it. She had spent eight years seeking mercy from appeals courts while imprisoned on death row.

The developments followed a landmark move by Pakistan's Supreme Court that overturned the 2010 conviction against her.

They then threatened any judges who would be involved in acquitting Asia Bibi. My children are very happy.

The three-judge panel upheld the blasphemy law itself, saying it was consistent with verses from Islam's holy book, the Qur'an. At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn't like her "taking revenge".

BBC News reporter Secunder Kermani, on the ground in Islamabad on Wednesday, wrote, "Asia Bibi's lawyer, closely flanked by a policeman, told me he was "happy" with the verdict, but also afraid for his and his client's safety".

Despite the news, however, danger remains for Bibi and her family.

His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 and has been feted as a hero by hardliners, who built a shrine to him just outside the capital.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan made a special address on the ruling as television channels showed the situation spiralling out of control in various cities.

"I say to these people: do not confront this not damage this country for your vote bank", said Khan.

John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need (UK), said: "I spoke this morning to Asia's daughter, Eisham, who is just 18, and she was so happy; it was nearly as if she was crying tears of joy down the phone".

Thousands of far-right religious demonstrators continue to block major roads across Pakistan in protest against the acquittal of a Christian woman in a high-profile blasphemy case. In Islamabad and Lahore, protesters attacked media and police, smashing cameras and cars.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar came to an "inescapable and irresistible" conclusion that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

Pakistani police officers stand guard outside the supreme court in Islamabad, Pakistan, on October 31, 2018.

Supporters of Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) immediately condemned Wednesday's ruling and blocked roads in major cities, pelting police with stones in the eastern city of Lahore. She was convicted and sentenced to death. "Pakistan's Christian community fears they will be the first target of retribution if Bibi's life is spared".

Blasphemy laws are reportedly used to settle scores or to persecute religious minorities; while non-Muslims constitute only 3% of the Pakistani population, 14% of blasphemy cases have been levied against them. She suffered tremendous pain and agony despite never being proven guilty, and most Pakistanis believed she committed blasphemy without even knowing the facts. "No one can take law into hands and government shall ensure writ of the state as expressed by the prime minister of Pakistan", he said.

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.