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.
A three-member bench headed by the top judge and comprising Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel directed authorities to release Aasia Bibi from prison.
"This appeal is, therefore, allowed, the conviction and sentence of the appellant recorded and upheld by the courts below are set aside and she is acquitted of the charge by extending the benefit of doubt to her", he stated. The judgments of the High Court as well as the Trial Court are reversed.
The judgment added, "Asia Bibi be released immediately if not involved in any other case".
The ultra-religious Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which makes punishing blasphemy its main campaign rallying cry and lionizes the bodyguard who killed Taseer, warned the court against any "concession or softness" for Bibi.
Asia Bibi, a mother of four, has been living on death row since 2010 when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's draconian blasphemy laws.
On a hot day in 2009, Bibi went to get water for her and her fellow farmworkers.
Sisters found dead, duct-taped together had applied for asylum
Consulate sources said autopsy results determining the cause of the death are yet to come out and the investigation is underway. The bodies of the two women that were bound together by duct tape washed up from New York's Hudson River on Wednesday.
She had then challenged the LHC verdict in the Supreme Court, which stayed her execution in July 2015 and admitted her appeal for hearing.
A case was filed against Bibi by an Imam in Katanwala village who alleged that Bibi had confessed to committing blasphemy, the lawyer said.
After the acquittal, large crowds gathered outside the court demanding her conviction to be upheld.
Her case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated. Both men supported Bibi and had called for an end to Pakistan's Blasphemy Law.
In February, Ms. Bibi's husband Ashiq Masih and one of her daughters met with Pope Francis shortly before Rome's ancient Colosseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Ms. Bibi in particular. The case has also infuriated Christians around the world, Reuters reports.
In 2010, Punjab's then-governor Salmaan Taseer and then-federal minister Shahbaz Bhatti were both killed for championing Bibi's cause. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hard-liners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad.