Riots, Death Threats Follow Acquittal of Pakistani Christian Accused of Blasphemy

Widespread rioting broke out across Pakistan following the Oct. 31 acquittal of Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy.

Noreen was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim woman.

But a three-member panel of the Supreme Court noted a number of inconsistencies, glaring contradictions and suppression of facts in the prosecution’s evidence and ruled that “the prosecution has categorically failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.”

Following the acquittal, radical Islamists led protests that blocked roads, closed schools and even caused the government to temporarily suspend cellphone service in some areas.

Noreen’s defense attorney fled the country Nov. 3 in response to death threats.

In order to stop the protests, the government initially kept her in prison and reportedly agreed to consider a judicial review of the acquittal. But late on the night of Nov. 7, she was released.

Conflicting reports appeared about the whereabouts of Noreen and her family, but at press time, the government was maintaining that the family was in protective custody and was free to fly to a different country. Britian, however, reportedly refused to offer them asylum. Meanwhile, extremists continued to warn of violent retaliation if the government allowed her to leave.