Mob justice?

Christian woman who was on death row for 8 years after blasphemy conviction to leave Pakistan after acquittal

Asia Bibi pictured here with two of her children. (Twitter)

A Christian woman on death row in Pakistan for alleged blasphemy was vindicated by the country’s supreme court on Wednesday, who found her not only innocent of insulting the prophet Muhammad but declared the accusations “nothing short of concoction incarnate.” On Thursday, amid nationwide outrage over the ruling, the woman’s family said she would leave the country for her safety, The Associated Press reported.

The judges ordered that Asia Bibi, a 54-year-old farm laborer and mother of five, be freed from imprisonment as there was “no evidence” to show that she had committed blasphemy, a charge for which the punishment is death. Bibi had been held in solitary confinement for the past eight years. As of Thursday, Bibi was still being held at an undisclosed location, given the risk for violence against her when she’s formally released. Her brother, Masih, said that plans are being made for her to exit the country swiftly upon being set free. “She has no other option and she will leave the country soon,” he told the AP.

The charges against Asia Bibi stemmed from an incident in which she allegedly offended Muslim co-workers by drinking from the same cup of water that she had fetched for them on a hot day. The farm workers then tried to force Bibi to convert to Islam. After her refusal, the community was stirred up against her and she faced confrontation from an angry mob that accused her of insulting the prophet Mohammed. She was sentenced to hang in 2010 by a lower court despite the apparent lack of evidence cited by the high court. According to The Guardian, many lower-court judges in Pakistan are reluctant to acquit in blasphemy cases due to the risk of being targeted themselves for mob retaliation. In 2011, Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Batti were murdered in retaliation for expressing support for Bibi and demanding reform of blasphemy laws.

The decision to free Bibi was met with anger by the far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP), a new political party formed with the express purpose of punishing blasphemers whose leaders had repeatedly demanded the mother be executed. And the ruling set off a number of protests throughout the country. TLP members were already protesting the decision on Wednesday morning across the country, and the group’s chief, Afzal Qadri, declared that the three judges on the Supreme Court were liable for death. According to reporter Rita Panahi, a sometimes controversial and fierce critic of institutionalized Islam, Bibi’s life will likely remain in danger of mob justice so long as she remains in Pakistan.

Watch coverage of the story from Panahi on Sky News below.

Read the full story at The Guardian and The Associated Press.

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