On Wednesday morning, Pakistan's high court acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman arrested under the country's strict anti-blasphemy law in 2009, ruling that there was insufficient evidence she had made "derogatory remarks" about Islam's Prophet Muhammad in a conversation with two Muslim women. Bibi has been on death row since 2010, as blasphemy carries a mandatory death sentence in Pakistan. She would have been the first woman and first non-Muslim hanged under the law.
Protests by hard-right Islamists reportedly broke out in cities across Pakistan as soon as Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar read the ruling. Bibi was in an undisclosed location and is expected to leave Pakistan.
Security in Pakistan was already tight ahead of the ruling. The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by one of his own guards in 2011 after he defended Bibi and criticized misuse of the blasphemy law, and hardline religious party Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) warned the judges of a "horrible" fate if they acquitted Bibi. The judges suggested that the rush to convict Bibi amid contradictory and possibly fabricated evidence violated Islamic law.
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"It is ironical," wrote Judge Asif Saeed Khan Kosa in a concurring opinion, "that in the Arabic language the appellant's name Asia means 'sinful' but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare's King Leare [sic], 'more sinned against than sinning.'"
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