Pakistan: Asia Bibi free after Pakistan Supreme Court upholds acquittal of Islamist blasphemy charges

A Christian woman who spent nine years on death row for blasphemy is free to leave Pakistan, after the country’s highest court upheld her acquittal.


Asia Bibi, a 47-year-old farm worker, was convicted of blasphemy against Islam in 2010, after an argument over whether she could share the same water glass as her Muslim co-workers.

She was sentenced to death by hanging, but the Supreme Court acquitted her on appeal in October last year.

The court’s decision prompted nationwide protests from Islamist hardliners.

The protests led to schools being shut in some areas and a major highway from Islamabad to Lahore was blockaded by angry mobs.

Ms Bibi and her children were kept in hiding amid calls for her beheading.

The Supreme Court has now rejected an appeal against Ms Bibi’s acquittal, clearing the last legal hurdle to her freedom.

The case garnered international attention, and in 2018 Tony Abbott said she would be welcome to seek asylum in Australia.

A deal struck between the Pakistani Government and Islamist leaders in a bid to quell unrest after her acquittal allowed for her to be stopped from leaving the country and for further appeals to be heard.

The UK resisted suggestions she could seek safe haven there, amid fears British consulate staff in Pakistan could be targeted in retaliation.

She is now expected to seek asylum in Canada, and it has been reported that two of her children are already there.

There have long been concerns Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have been used to persecute religious minorities, including the Muslim Ahmadi sect.

Blasphemy is punishable by death in the Muslim-majority country.

Ms Bibi’s family have always maintained her innocence.

Before her acquittal, two Pakistani officials were murdered after speaking out in her defence.

Pakistani extremists urged the death of the Supreme Court judges, calling on their cooks and servants to murder them.

Islamabad’s Supreme Court was ringed with tight security and the city was on high alert ahead of the latest ruling, amid fears fresh protests could erupt.

 

 

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