US rights body praises Pak judges for acquitting Christian woman convicted of blasphemy
A top congressional rights body on Friday praised Pakistan's Supreme Court judges who acquitted a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy.
Asia Bibi, a 47-year-old mother of four, was convicted in 2010 after being accused of insulting Islam in a row with her neighbours. She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.
"We also strongly applaud the Pakistani judges who have taken a stand for justice and religious freedom in this (Asia Bibi's) case despite death threats against them," Congressmen Randy Hultgren and Jim McGovern, co-chairs of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC), said in a joint statement.
Bibi was listed as a prisoner of conscience under the TLHRC's 'Defending Freedom' project. The former co-chair of the commission, Joe Pitts, advocated on her behalf.
"We are grateful that the Pakistani government has released Asia and secured protection for her, and we urge public officials in the country to protect religious minorities from dubious charges such as these in the future," the statement said.
"We wish Asia the best and hope that the overturning of her conviction encourages Pakistan to rethink its laws criminalising blasphemy," it added.
The Supreme Court's judgement, which was pronounced on Wednesday, triggered protests across Pakistan with protestors led by Islamic political party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) and other groups blocking major highways and roads in different parts of the country.
"Asia lost eight years of freedom for charges she was eventually cleared of...The country's discriminatory blasphemy laws against religious minorities have resulted in sectarian violence and a culture of impunity for perpetrators of that violence," the two top American lawmakers said.
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