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Pakistan's supreme court has struck down the death sentence for blasphemy handed down to Christian woman Asia Bibi, in a long-delayed, landmark decision that has seen the judiciary praised for its bravery in the face of threats of violence and protest from the country's Islamist groups.

The verdict was announced by a special bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar while Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel were the other members of the three-judge bench.

"....this appeal is allowed".

She has been offered asylum by several countries and was expected to leave the country if acquitted.

Ms Asia Bibi's case drew the attention of global rights groups and swiftly became the most high-profile in the country.

A trial court convicted Bibi for blasphemy in November 2010 and sentenced her to death.

Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative Muslim Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam and its Prophet Mohammed can provoke a violent and bloody death at the hands of vigilantes.

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The women went to a local cleric and accused Ms Bibi of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, a charge punishable by death under colonial-era legislation.

A journalist who visited her in prison before the verdict said she appeared to have memory loss and confusion.

Bibi was arrested in 2009 after a quarrel with Muslim women. Asia Bibi, an internationally known Christian victim of false blasphemy charges languished in the jail for nearly nine years.

Ms Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih hailed Wednesday's verdict.

It has been a case of high-tension from the outset, with Salman Taseer, a Punjabi governor who supported Ms Bibi, gunned down in broad daylight by his bodyguard in Islamabad in 2011.

Supreme Court's verdict says that the contradictions are sufficient enough to cast a shadow of doubt on the prosecution's version of fact. "Asia Bibi has finally been served justice". The chief justice had also directed news channels to not discuss the case. His assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was executed in 2016 and has been feted as a hero by hardliners, with a shrine to him built by Islamists just outside the capital.

The case highlights two issues with blasphemy laws in Pakistan: how allegations can be used to settle personal scores, and lower-court judges feeling unable to acquit defendants for fear of their lives. Bibi's case was closely followed internationally amid concern for Pakistan's religious minorities, who have frequently come under attack by extremists in recent years.


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