Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday acquitted a Christian woman who has been on death row for nearly eight years on blasphemy charges.
Asia Bibi was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with Muslim colleagues in 2009, and she was convicted of blasphemy the following year and sentenced to death. But the mother of five won her appeal against the conviction this week, CNN reported.
The acquittal prompted protests in Islamabad and Lahore, where the demonstrations quickly became large enough that government officials urged people to stay inside. Members of the Islamist movement Tehreek-e Labbaik staged sit-ins and yelled slogans against Pakistani officials.
Police officials invoked Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prohibits the gathering of more than four people.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called the protests a “disgusting response” to the acquittal.
“You are not aiding Islam by talking about killing judges and by killing our generals who have sacrificed so much for our country,” Khan said. “I am appealing to our people: Do not get caught up by the worlds of these people who only want to increase their vote bank.”
Quoting Shakespeare, Pakistan’s Supreme Court said Bibi had been “more sinned against than sinning.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom welcomed the court’s ruling in a press release.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes the decision by Pakistan;s Supreme Court to overturn the death sentence handed down in 2010 against Asia Bibi, a Roman Catholic mother of five.
In anticipation of the likelihood of an outbreak of social unrest following this decision, USCIRF urges Pakistani authorities to ensure Asia Bibi’s safety upon her release. And while USCIRF welcomes this decision, it again calls on the government of Pakistan to release the 40 individuals imprisoned on blasphemy charges and to repeal its blasphemy laws.