Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted a man convicted for blasphemy after he had already spent over nine years in jail, officials said on Saturday.

Muhammad Mansha, 58, was arrested by police in September 2008 for allegedly desecrating pages of the Quran in Sadiqgunj area of Bahawalnagar district in Punjab province.

According to a court official, a Supreme Court panel of Justice Dost Mohammad and Justice Qazi Faez Isa acquitted the man after it emerged that the main witness in the case was suffering from severe hearing and speech impairments.

He was charged under Section 295-B of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and awarded life imprisonment in 2009 by a district and sessions court. The sentence was also upheld by the Lahore High Court in 2014.

The judges observed that the witness was not competent to record evidence under the law.

Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law was enacted by military dictator Ziaul Haq in 1980s to appease clerics. The law has been criticised by rights groups for its misuse aimed at settling personal scores and disputes.

The judges observed that the witness was not competent to record evidence under the law.

Those accused of blasphemy are under imminent threat of being killed by extremists