A Pakistani court has overturned the death sentence of a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy, a case that has polarised the nation. Asia Bibi was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a row with her neighbours.
She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement. The landmark ruling has already set off protests by hardliners who support strong blasphemy laws.
There was a heavy police presence at the Supreme Court in Islamabad as many feared violence could break out. People have also been gathering for protests against the verdict in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, and hundreds blocked a road between Rawalpindi and Islamabad, Dawn newspaper reported.
Chief Justice Saqib Nisarm, who read out the ruling, said Asia Bibi could walk free from jail in Sheikupura, near Lahore, immediately if not wanted in connection with any other case. She was not in court to hear the ruling, but reacted to the verdict from prison with apparent disbelief.
“I can’t believe what I am hearing, will I go out now? Will they let me out, really?” AFP news agency quoted her as saying by phone.