Pakistan court upholds Aasia Bibi’s blasphemy acquittal

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has upheld the acquittal of a Christian woman charged with blasphemy, standing by its earlier verdict that sparked days of protests, death threats and nationwide chaos.

The country’s top court in the capital, Islamabad, on Tuesday dismissed the review petition against Aasia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy before being released last October.

The three-judge panel said arguments of the lawyer acting on behalf of the petitioners did not satisfy the judges.

She is now free to leave the country. Unconfirmed Pakistani media reports claim her two daughters have already gone to Canada, where they have already been granted asylum.

Bibi is currently under guard at a secret location in Pakistan for her own safety.

The 54-year-old mother of five was arrested in 2009 after being accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two female Muslim farm workers who refused to drink from a water container used by a Christian in a village in eastern Punjab province.

The case became emblematic of fair trial concerns around Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws.

The far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) threatened to hold protests if Bibi’s acquittal was not reversed.

TLP called for its members to be ready for action in a message sent to journalists prior to the ruling.

But most of its leaders remain in detention after a government crackdown, and few protesters could be seen at the court in Islamabad, where security appeared as normal.

That did not prevent those who did show up for the hearing from calling for violence against Bibi. “She deserves to be murdered according to Shariah,” Hafiz Ehtisham Ahmed, an activist linked to the Red Mosque in Islamabad, told AFP news agency.

“If she goes abroad, don’t Muslims live there? If she goes out of Pakistan … anybody can kill her there.”

Blasphemy remains a massively inflammatory issue in Pakistan, where even unproven accusations of insulting Islam can spark lynchings. Many cases see Muslims accusing Muslims, and rights activists say blasphemy charges are frequently used to settle personal scores.

Minorities – particularly Christians – are often caught in the crossfire.

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