Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday announced the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman who was convicted and sentenced to death in 2010 for blasphemy in a case that has divided the South Asian country and sparked worldwide outrage. Bibi recalled that when they disparaged her Christianity, she answered, "I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind".
She has been offered asylum by several countries and many expect her and her family to leave Pakistan.
Bibi appeared to be in a state of disbelief after hearing that Pakistan's Chief Justice Saqib Nisar had quashed her conviction almost eight years after she was first sentenced to death.
He addressed the nation through a video message and his address was exclusively focused on the Asia Bibi verdict.
On the eve of judgment, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, chief of the religious political party Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), warned against any decision in favour of Bibi and said that if that happened, the whole country would be brought to a standstill.
Private schools in Sindh and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces also announced to remain shut.
In a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Khan rebuked the TLP for taking the law into their own hands, accusing them of riling religious sentiments for political gain.
"We will not allow any damages. And why should it be me that converts instead of you?"
"The Muslim generals of the army, it is their responsibility that they should launch a rebellion against these generals", Afzal Qadri - a TLP leader - told supporters in Lahore.
"They all three deserve to be killed". The group also demanded the ouster of the newly elected government of Imran Khan.
Pakistani security forces deployed outside churches to protect minority Christians and urged demonstrators to disperse peacefully. The supreme court was due to hear Bibi's appeal in 2016, but delayed the trial after one of the judges recused himself. The two Muslim women who pressed charges denied they quarrelled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked. Those killed include a provincial governor and a federal minister who stood up for Bibi when she was first accused in 2009.
Asia Bibi, a Christian farm laborer, angered her Muslim co-workers when she took a drink of water from a cup she got for them almost a decade ago.
There are fewer than four million Christians in Pakistan out of a total population of 197 million.
Pakistan's highest court has spared the life of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy in a long-awaited ruling Wednesday, prompting celebration among human rights activists and protest among far-right Islamists.
"The decision of the judges is according to the constitution and Pakistan's constitution is according to the teachings of Islam".
Pakistan's blasphemy laws and the the capital punishment for breaking them has drawn concern from global rights organizations, "not least because they are sometimes misused to settle feuds, grab land, or persecute religious minorities by making false allegations", NPR's Phillip Reeves has reported.
Persecution of Christians for "blasphemy" remains a serious problem in Pakistan.
Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar announced the verdict on Wednesday to a packed courtroom and ordered Asia Bibi released, declaring Asia Bibi innocent.
"I am afraid I will have to leave Pakistan".
Taseer had also called for Bibi's release.
Its significance, however, should not be overstated, and the power of the religiously motivated mob should not be understated, he said.
In the 1980s, Pakistan's military ruler Gen Zia ul-Haq made the laws against blasphemy more stringent; in 1982 he instituted life imprisonment for "willful" desecration of the Koran; in 1986, "death, or imprisonment for life" for blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad.