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Pakistan high court scraps death sentence for woman accused of blasphemy

By Clyde Hughes
Pakistan high court scraps death sentence for woman accused of blasphemy
Pakistan's high court on Wednesday dismissed a death sentence for Asia Bibi, a Christian accused of blasphemy. Photo by Bibi family/EPA-EFE

Oct. 31 (UPI) -- The Pakistan Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a death sentence against a 47-year-old woman for blasphemy, over her refusal to convert to Islam.

Asia Bibi, a Christian farm laborer, angered her Muslim co-workers when she took a drink of water from a cup she got for them nearly a decade ago. Some said she insulted the Muslim prophet Muhammad when she refused to convert after the incident, The Guardian reported.

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Blasphemy carries an automatic death sentence in Pakistan, but the government has never actually executed anyone for the offense.

The justices concluded that no strong evidence was presented to the court about Bibi's crime. Those watching proceedings said three witnesses also gave conflicting testimony.

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"Even if there was some grain of truth in the allegations leveled in this case against the appellant still the glaring contradictions in the evidence of the prosecution highlighted above clearly show that the truth in this case had been mixed with a lot which was untrue," the ruling said, CNN reported.

Despite the decision, protesters are calling for Bibi to be punished -- and Afzal Qadri, chief of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Party, said the high court judges are now liable to be put to death.

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Bibi's case has been highly divisive in Pakistan, dividing liberal and conservatives. She was originally convicted for blasphemy in 2010.

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Amnesty International researcher Rabia Mehmood told CNN the Pakistani government failed to carry out "effective measures to curb the campaign of hate and violence incited by certain groups in the country following her conviction.

"In fact, the state has shown immense tolerance for the narratives of hate," Mehmood said.

Bibi, who had been held in solitary confinement, remained Wednesday in a jail in Rawalpindi as officials awaited court orders.

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