Pakistan's Supreme Court has acquitted Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who was on death row on charges of blasphemy since 2010. She was convicted for allegedly tarnishing the name of the Prophet Muhammed during an argument with a few Muslim colleagues.
Bibi became the first woman to be sentenced to death under the country's blasphemy laws and has reportedly spent most of the last eight years in solitary confinement.
A mother of four from the Punjab province, Bibi has maintained that she is innocent and won her appeal of October 31. The ruling was read out by Chief Justice Saqib Nasir at the Supreme Court in Islamabad, who said that the judgement of the lower court "is reversed."
"The conviction is set aside. She is acquitted of all charges and if not required for any other charges she will be released forthwith," Reuters quoted Nasir as saying.
What is the Asia Bibi case?
Bibi was said to have been harvesting fruit in Sheikhupura, near Lahore, in 2009, when she had an argument with a group of women over a bucket of water. The women had said that they could not drink from a cup that Bibi has used as she was from a different faith and had made it impure.
An argument had broken out in the group and the women had said that Bibi should convert to Islam. However, she had reportedly made offensive comments on the religion and the prophet. Bibi was then beaten up at her home, during which she confessed to blasphemy, her accusers had said. She was then arrested and investigated, but Bibi maintained that she may have got irate during the argument and said some "hot words," but never made any blasphemous statement.
Bibi case has been a hot topic of debate in the country over the years and her acquittal is likely to cause law and order issues in the nation. Hardline religious clerics have often spoken against Bibi and earlier told their supporters to take to the streets in case Bibi was acquitted. In tune, security has been tightened in Islamabad. Bibi has also found quite a few supporters, but not everyone has been able to speak up in her favour. When regional governor Salman Taseer appealed for leniency for her, he was murdered in Islamabad by his own bodyguard.
Support for Asia Bibi
After Bibi was acquitted, David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, an organisation that works for the well-being of Christian minorities, said that the verdict has brought a "sigh of relief."
"These charges stemmed from her Christian identity as well as false accusations against her," CNN quoted Curry as saying. "We are hopeful that Pakistan will now take additional steps to offer religious freedom and basic human rights throughout the country."
While Bibi may not have received much support in Pakistan, several people abroad have spoken in her favour, and many foreign cities also saw people rallying for her. Just last week, Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) held prayers for Bibi in the UK.
"We have prayed 10 years now for our sister, Asia, and I am confident that our prayers will be heard, and the judgment will go in favor of Asia, her family and the entire Pakistani Christian community," Father Emmanuel Yousaf said in a statement.
Bibi has also been offered asylum by several countries.