Pakistan's Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam and ordered her freed.
He said: "The appeal is allowed. She is acquitted of all charges and if not required for any other charges she will be released forthwith". The Lahore High Court (LHC) had upheld her conviction and confirmed her death sentence in October 2014.
The media has been prevented from discussing the case since the verdict was reserved on 8 October.
While there are hundreds of Christians, Ahmadis, Hindus, and even Muslims who have spent long prison terms and many have been killed by religious extremists, the government of Pakistan has never executed anyone for blasphemy.
Paramilitary troops deployed in Islamabad to prevent protesters from reaching the Supreme Court, where security for the judges was being beefed up.
Some hardline clerics have asked followers to be ready for street agitation early in the morning if the Supreme Court releases the accused woman.
According to available information, Aasiya Bibi also known as Asia Bibi was allegedly involved in an argument with a group of Muslim women with whom she had been harvesting berries after the other women objected to a non-Muslim touching the bowl in which she fetched water.
Saudi crown prince breaks silence on 'heinous' Khashoggi killing
One photo showed the son, Salah, looking ashen-faced and shaking hands with Mohammed as a video cameraman stood in the background. He added: "I will not allow a wedge to form between Saudi Arabia and Turkey".
"The verdict has shown that the poor, the minorities and the lowest segments of society can get justice in this country despite its shortcomings", Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook told AFP.
The decision is a victory for human rights activists, who said the country's blasphemy law has been used to settle personal scores or to attack minority communities.
Prosecutors alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made three offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response. She was convicted and sentenced to death.
"I don't see any derogatory remarks vis-a-vis the holy Koran as per the FIR", added Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, referring to the initial complaint filed in the case.
In 2011, Salman Taseer, who was then the governor of Punjab province, was assassinated by a bodyguard in Islamabad, days after he expressed support for Bibi.
That same year, Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian politician, was killed for being a vocal critic of the law. The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hardliners since he was hanged for the killing, with millions visiting a shrine set up for him near Islamabad. Analysts have warned the tactic could deepen sectarian fractures and potentially spill into violence.