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Asia Bibi exposes a failing Pakistani state

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The Pakistani state took nearly ten years away from Asia Bibi. Born in 1971, she has spent the prime of her life in jail. Bibi, an impoverished mother of five, was incarcerated for insulting Islam in 2009, and sentenced to death in 2010.

In Pakistan, it only takes a mere accusation, a slight assertion, to put someone behind bars on blasphemy charges. At last, after a long and arduous legal battle lasting nearly a decade, Pakistan's top court acquitted Bibi on October 31. The verdict was hailed by liberals and rights activists all over the world.

The logical outcome of the Supreme Court's decision would have been Bibi's immediate freedom. But authorities were forced to keep her in prison for over a week. Hardline Islamist groups are demanding her death and they have taken to the streets in protest of the court's ruling.

No blasphemer has the right to live, they chant, while setting cars and shops on fire in many cities. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) group says the judges who acquitted Bibi must be killed. They're also urging army officials, who are loyal to the Islamist narrative, to revolt against the incumbent army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

DW's Shamil Shams

Read more: Pakistan blasphemy case: Asia Bibi's husband fears for wife's safety

In spite of this serious challenge to its authority, Pakistan's government has not met the Islamist protesters with an iron fist. Prime Minister Imran Khan's government caved in to extremists, and agreed to take legal measures barring Bibi from traveling abroad.

Read more: Blasphemy agreement: Is Pakistan ruled by Islamists?

Pakistani authorities justified their agreement with the TLP, arguing they wanted to avoid more violence on the streets. It's possible they were only buying more time to deal with the situation. On Wednesday evening, news broke that Bibi had finally been released from prison and could potentially soon be taken out of the country to safety.

A failure of law

Bibi's heart-wrenching ordeal has proven that blasphemy remains a sensitive issue in Pakistan and, more importantly, the blasphemy laws in place since the 1980s........

© Deutsche Welle