UPDATE – Pakistani court acquits Christian woman of blasphemy

UPDATES WITH PROTEST, REMARKS BY PM

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Pakistan's Supreme Court Wednesday acquitted a Christian woman who was condemned to death on blasphemy charges in 2014, local media reported.

A three-member bench of the top court headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar announced the judgment in the capital Islamabad on the appeal of Aasia Bibi who had been sentenced to death by a district court in November 2010 for blasphemous remarks against Prophet Muhammad.

Bibi had challenged the judgment in the Lahore High Court, which upheld the district court verdict in 2014.

"The judgment of the high court and that of the trial court is reversed," Nisar announced.

Bibi is likely to leave the country as her family fears for safety.

Hardliner religious groups took out protests against the verdict in many cities.

Prime Minister Imran Khan appealed the nation to remain vigilant against inciters.

Addressing the nation on television and radio, he said the reaction on the Supreme Court decision by a small segment of society is inappropriate.

Blasphemy, against Islam and Prophet Muhammad, is a criminal offense that can carry the death penalty in Pakistan. While the state has never executed anyone under the law, mere allegations have stirred mass protests and violence.

Last April, a student Mashal Khan was beaten to death at his university in the northwestern city of Mardan on similar allegations.

In 2011, a bodyguard shot dead Salman Taseer, governor of the Punjab province, after he declared the blasphemy law as a " black law". His killer was executed in 2016.

Rights group observe that the blasphemy law is often exploited to settle personal scores against religious minorities and say it should be annulled.

Supporters of the law claim it is intended to cover all religions and prevent vigilantism after allegations of blasphemy.

There are nearly 600 blasphemy cases waiting in the courts, of which two thirds involve Muslims.

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