Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan has been freed today, according to a report from the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement, (CLAAS). Asia was given a pardon Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. She has gone into hiding now over fears for her safety. See editor's note **
Mother-of-two Asia Bibi was arrested and has been in prison since June 2009. She was sentenced to death on 8 November this year, by the additional and session judge Naveed Iqbal.
The 45-year-old was found guilty of blasphemy despite there being no evidence that she committed the crime and her repeated denial of the charges laid against her.
She was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad by Muslim field workers following a dispute over their different faiths. When she was asked to bring a cup of water, the women refused to drink from it, saying that it had been touched by a Christian and was therefore "unclean".
The case caused an international outcry and thrown the spotlight on Pakistan's unjust blasphemy laws. Pope Benedict was one of many world leaders who appealed for her to be freed.
Nasir Saeed, a spokesman from CLAAS, which provides free legal assistance to Pakistani Christian, said: "This is the only acceptable outcome to what has been a travesty of justice from the outset. Asia Bibi should never have been charged with blasphemy, let alone found guilty and sentenced to death. The ordeal faced by her and her family is unimaginable to most people outside of Pakistan who are largely unaware of the abuse and discrimination faced by the tiny Christian minority there.
"The blasphemy laws smack in the face of democracy and human rights and only reinforce the notion that Christians and other religious minorities in the country are somehow inferior and less human. We are relieved and overjoyed at Asia Bibi's release but so long as the blasphemy laws remain in place there is no telling when another innocent Christian will face being executed because of something they said."
**Editor's note - Although we checked this story and were assured it was true at the time - there have been further reports confirming that Asia is probably still in prison. Given the climate in Pakistan at the moment she and her family will be in great danger if her release is made public. 4 January 2011.