Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted a Christian woman accused of blasphemy on Wednesday.
Aasia Bibi, whose case has become iconic of fair-trial concerns in such accusations, was freed in a move the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party has said it will respond to with countrywide protests.
“The appeal is allowed… The conviction and the sentence of death [are overturned],” said chief justice Saqib Nisar while announcing the verdict.
Bibi, 53, a native of the central Pakistani village of Ithan Wali, was acquitted by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court after spending nine years on death row for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad and the Quran.
Bibi was accused by two Muslim women of having committed blasphemy during an argument sparked by their refusal to drink water from the same vessel as her in 2009.
She was sentenced to death by a trial court in November 2010, with the Lahore High Court upholding the conviction four years later.
Blasphemy against Islam and its Prophet is a sensitive subject in Pakistan, where the crime can carry a compulsory death sentence.
Increasingly, blasphemy accusations have resulted in mob lynchings and extrajudicial murders. At least 74 have been killed in violence related to blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to an Al Jazeera tally.
In 2010, Punjab’s then-governor Salmaan Taseer and then-federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both killed for championing Bibi’s cause.
Earlier, the far-right TLP threatened to hold countrywide demonstrations if Bibi was acquitted. Led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, TLP has a history of organising violent protests on the issue of blasphemy.