Protests rage in Pakistan after woman acquitted of blasphemy

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In Pakistan, where the mere allegation of blasphemy can lead to lynchings and murders before a court has even heard the case, Bibi's case ignited acute tension between an increasingly aggressive far-right anti-blasphemy movement and groups supporting leniency.

Asia Bibi thumbs on her appeal papers against a death sentence.

Authorities said she is scheduled for release later this week, after which her plans are unknown. Similar rallies were held elsewhere.

"We are ready to die to show our love for the prophet", he said.

Mr Rizvi's envoys wanted Ms Bibi barred from leaving the country, but information minister Fawad Chaudhry rejected the demand and said the government would not be dictated to. The Supreme Court judges said the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, and that Bibi confessed when a crowd was threatening to kill her. We should be happy that the Supreme Court's verdict says that no blasphemy was committed, he added.

Ms Bibi, a mother of five, has been offered asylum by several countries and will most likely leave the country if released over worries about her safety.

The case was based on flimsy evidence, they said, and proper procedures had not been followed.

Bibi's family had expected her release by Thursday night.

In February, Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, and one of her daughters met Pope Francis shortly before Rome's ancient Coliseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Bibi in particular. Both officials had stood up for Bibi when she was first accused of blasphemy.

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Back in 2010, Asia Bibi, a woman from the Christian minority in rural Pakistan, was convicted of insulting the prophet Mohammed after getting into an argument with neighbours the previous year.

"How can a government or a country be run when individuals stand up and call for the execution of judges", he asked while talking in context of threats to judges who acquitted Asia Bibi.

Islam is Pakistan's national religion and underpins its legal system. A road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi was closed off by the protesters.

Knots of protesters from an ultra-Islamist party blocked roughly 10 key roads in the southern city of Karachi and others in eastern Lahore, Geo TV and other channels said.

Bibi was convicted under Pakistan's blasphemy law after a June 2009 altercation with fellow farm workers who refused to drink water she had touched, contending it was "unclean" because she was Christian.

Insulting Islam's prophet is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and blasphemy accusations stir such emotions they are nearly impossible to defend against.

A lawyer representing a local cleric who had raised the initial blasphemy charges against Ms Bibi petitioned the supreme court on Thursday to reverse its acquittal.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the the capital punishment for breaking them has drawn concern from global rights organizations, "not least because they are sometimes misused to settle feuds, grab land, or persecute religious minorities by making false allegations", NPR's Phillip Reeves has reported. A few months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister for minorities, was killed for lobbying for a change in the country's blasphemy laws, which are widely believed to be often misused to settle disputes.

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