Asia Bibi expected to leave Pakistan after court upholds acquittal
CGTN

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman at the center of a blasphemy row which has ignited violent protests, and who has been linked to two assassinations and spotlighted religious extremism in Pakistan, is expected to leave the country after its top court on Tuesday upheld her acquittal.

When she will leave and where she will go remain to be seen, however, with rampant unconfirmed speculation that she will seek asylum in a North American or European country.

Bibi, a laborer from Pakistan's central Punjab province, spent eight years awaiting execution before the Supreme Court overturned her death sentence for blasphemy in October last year - prompting days of violent Islamist demonstrations.

As part of a deal with protesters to end the violence, the government allowed a petition demanding an appeal against the court's acquittal.

 A police official takes the thumbprint of Asia Bibi on an affidavit stating her innocence at the central jail in Sheikhupura, located in Pakistan's Punjab Province, on November 20, 2010. /VCG Photo

 A police official takes the thumbprint of Asia Bibi on an affidavit stating her innocence at the central jail in Sheikhupura, located in Pakistan's Punjab Province, on November 20, 2010. /VCG Photo

Bibi has been held in protective custody since, with authorities refusing to reveal her whereabouts for fear she will be targeted by vigilantes.

But Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa - considered Pakistan's top expert in criminal law - threw the petition out "on merit" Tuesday, lifting the last legal hurdle in the case and paving the way for her to leave the country.

Moments after the ruling was announced, Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook hinted that his client's move could be imminent.

"I think at this time she is here (in Pakistan) - but by tonight, I don't know," he told reporters outside the court.

Extremists "said they would kill her despite the judgment of the Supreme Court," he said. "Therefore, I think she should leave the country."

Unconfirmed Pakistani reports claim her children have already fled to Canada. France said it was ready to welcome Bibi and her family "if they wish". 

Judge frustrated

Activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan protest against the Supreme Court decision on the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman accused of blasphemy, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on January 29, 2019. /VCG Photo

Activists of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan protest against the Supreme Court decision on the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian Pakistani woman accused of blasphemy, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, on January 29, 2019. /VCG Photo

Earlier Tuesday the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which led violent protests demanding Bibi's execution last year, called for its members to be ready for action. Small protests were reported in some cities late Tuesday.

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 normal.

That did not prevent the handful who did show up from calling for violence against Bibi prior to the court's ruling.

"If she goes abroad, don't Muslims live there?" Hafiz Ehtisham Ahmed, an Islamist activist linked to the extremist Red Mosque in Islamabad, said to AFP.

"If she goes out of Pakistan... anybody can kill her there."

Chief Justice Khosa expressed frustration at the furious reaction to Bibi's case by an extremist minority.

"Is this the face of Islam that we want to show to the world?" he told the packed courtroom.

He had harsh words for those who first brought the case against Bibi, and the Islamists who over the years have used it to ignite violence, threaten judges, and call for mutiny within the military.

As for the protesters, he was incredulous. "You block the entire country because a decision is not in your favor?" he told the court.

Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer who filed a petition on behalf of the cleric who made the original complaint against Bibi in 2009, remained unmoved.

"All religious scholars also verified later that this agreement was wrong. This was wrong," he said outside court. 

'Justice! #AsiaBibi'

The daughters of Asia Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in Pakistan's Punjab Province, on November 13, 2010. /VCG Photo

The daughters of Asia Bibi pose with an image of their mother while standing outside their residence in Sheikhupura located in Pakistan's Punjab Province, on November 13, 2010. /VCG Photo

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.

Calls to reform colonial-era laws against blasphemy have provoked violence. In 2011 Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Pakistan's Punjab province who offered to support Bibi, was assassinated by his own bodyguard in Islamabad.

Screenshot of the tweet by Shehryar Taseer, the son of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated by his bodyguard after he had offered to support Asia Bibi.

Screenshot of the tweet by Shehryar Taseer, the son of former Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who was assassinated by his bodyguard after he had offered to support Asia Bibi.

"Justice! #AsiaBibi" his son Shehryar tweeted after Tuesday's decision.

Taseer's murder was followed the same year by the killing of minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, who had also defended Bibi.

The EU called on Pakistan's government to protect Asia Bibi and her family, "as they would do for any Pakistani citizen".

The allegations against Bibi date back to 2009, when Muslim women accused her of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed.

The accusation emerged from an argument after Bibi was asked to fetch water while working in the fields, but the women objected to her touching the water bowl as a non-Muslim.

Bibi has denied the charges, and her prosecution rallied international rights groups, politicians and religious figures.

3886km
Source(s): AFP