Freed by court, Pakistani Christian woman still a prisoner

Legal Issues

Aasia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian acquitted of blasphemy, still lives the life of a prisoner, nearly three months after her release from death row, awaiting a final ruling on her fate.

She spends her days in seclusion for fear of being targeted by angry mobs clamoring for her death. In her hideout, she longs for her children who were taken to Canada for their safety.

Pakistani security forces guarding the 54-year-old Bibi prevent her from opening a window in her hiding place, let alone go outside, a friend said.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is weighing a petition by Islamist extremists and right-wing religious parties that rallied against her acquittal and demand her execution.

Her case goes to the core of one of Pakistan's most controversial issues — the blasphemy law, often used to settle scores or intimidate followers of Pakistan's minority religions, including minority Shiite Muslims. A charge of insulting Islam can bring the death penalty.

Just making an accusation is sometimes enough to whip up vengeful mobs, even if the courts acquit defendants. A provincial governor who defended Bibi was shot and killed, as was a government minority minister who dared question the blasphemy law.

Bibi's ordeal began on a hot day in 2009, with a row with fellow farmworkers after two Muslim women refused to drink water from the same container as a Christian. They demanded she convert, and she refused. Five days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy. She was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

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