Woman released after 8 years of solitary confinement for blasphemy, prompting immediate calls for her beheading

Asia BIbi (Facebook/AFP)

A Pakistani Christian woman who spent more than eight years on death row in solitary confinement before being acquitted of blasphemy charges by the country’s Supreme Court just over a week ago was finally allowed to leave jail on Wednesday. Asia Bibi, a 54-year-old farm laborer and mother of five, had been charged with blasphemy after an incident in which she allegedly offended Muslim co-workers by drinking water from the same cup of water she had fetched for them on a hot day. Lower-court judges, apparently afraid of retaliation from conservative Muslim groups, had upheld her initial conviction in 2010, only for the Supreme Court to rule eight years later that the accusations against her were clearly “nothing short of concoction incarnate.”

According to NPR’s Islamabad-based correspondent Diaa Hadid, Pakistan erupted into chaos following Bibi’s acquittal as “followers of a hard-line Pakistani religious group rushed onto major roads across the country to paralyze traffic in protest of the decision.” The angry mobs demanded Bibi’s death, as well as those of the three Supreme Court judges who voted to acquit her.

“Even in a country which generally tolerates a great deal of hate speech by the religious right, the calls against the army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, seemed to stun many in Pakistan,” wrote Diaa. “It led to the prime minister, Imran Khan, warning the protesters in an evening televised address that the state could be forced to act against them. Negotiations began shortly after the prime minister’s address to defuse the situation.”

Bibi’s family members have said that they plan to seek asylum in a foreign country, as her life would likely remain at risk if she remains in Pakistan. And it’s no wonder they fear for her life. On Friday, the streets in Karachi were flooded with protesters who railed against Bibi’s release and called for her beheading.

Watch video coverage of Bibi’s release from prison below.

Read the full story at NPR.


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