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Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday (Oct 31) overturned the conviction of a Christian mother facing execution for blasphemy in a landmark case which has incited deadly violence and reached as far as the Vatican.

Earlier this month, the leader of the Islamic party Tehreek-i-Labbaik threatened to "paralyse the country within hours" if the court set Ms Bibi free - and the civilian government has been unwilling to take them on over any change to the law.

She always maintained her innocence, but has spent most of the past eight years in solitary confinement.

During the appeal hearing on Oct 8, a three-member panel of Supreme Court justices appeared to question the case against her, with Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa, considered Pakistan's top expert in criminal law, listing flaws in the proceedings.

She was not in court to hear the ruling.

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Bibi was arrested in 2009 after a quarrel with Muslim women.

They were harvesting fruit when a row broke out about a bucket of water.

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, was acquitted on Wednesday after being sentenced to death on blasphemy charges in 2010.

In February, Bibi's husband, Ashiq Masih, and one of her daughters met Pope Francis shortly before Rome's ancient Coliseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Bibi in particular.

The ruling heavily referenced the Koran and Islamic history. Public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong.

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But critics say the laws have often been used to get revenge after personal disputes, and that convictions are based on thin evidence.

No-one has ever been executed, but some people accused of the offence have been lynched or murdered. 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.

The TLP was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Lahore provincial governor Salman Taseer for advocating for Bibi in 2011. A few days later, a mob accused her of blasphemy after the women went to a local cleric in Sheikhupura - a city in Punjab - to report her.

Many in conservative Pakistan hailed him as a martyr - he was showered with rose petals whenever he was brought to court and now has a mausoleum in the capital where hundreds visit every week.

Internationally, Bibi's case has generated outrage.

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There are fears that there could be a violent response to her acquittal. In, 2014, Lahore High Court (LHC) had upheld the verdict. Consequently, the conviction as also the sentence of death awarded to the appellant is set aside and she is acquitted of the charge.


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