Islamabad: The Pakistani Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who’d been accused of blasphemy, meaning she’s free to leave the country for the first time in nine years.
The three-court panel threw out a complaint against Asia Bibi, who still faces death threats for statements she made about the Islamic Prophet Mohammed 10 years ago.
The petition argued that Bibi confessed to her crimes during the original investigation, but the judges disagreed Tuesday.
“Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said in the ruling. “You could not point [even] a single mistake in the Supreme Court’s verdict.”
Bibi’s travel ban, imposed after pressure from protesters, was lifted with the ruling.
The far-right Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) Party threatened to protest if Bibi was set free.
Khosa said Bibi’s accusers are guilty of perjury and would have been jailed if the case wasn’t so sensitive.
“The image of Islam we are showing to the world gives me much grief and sorrow,” he said.
Bibi’s attorney, Saiful Malook, called the decision a victory for Pakistan’s constitution and the rule of law.
Bibi was acquitted of all charges in October by the Pakistan Supreme Court, but protesters demonstrated and pressured the high court to hear the case again.
Amnesty International called for Pakistan to protect religious minorities and the judges who made the controversial decision. The country’s blasphemy laws are vague and coercive and can persecute people with little or no evidence, the organization said.
“Asia Bibi must finally get her freedom and an end to her ordeal. After nine years behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit, it is difficult to see this long overdue verdict as justice. But she should now be free to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice.
“The authorities must also resist and investigate any attempts to intimidate the Supreme Court. They have a duty to protect against threats of violence to harm religious minorities or the lives of judges or other government officials.
“This shameful delay in enforcing Asia Bibi’s rights only reinforces the need for the Pakistani government to repeal the blasphemy laws as soon as possible, as well as other laws that discriminate against religious minorities and put their lives in danger.”
Asia Bibi, a Christian farmworker, was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. In late October 2018, Pakistan’s Supreme Court acquitted her of all charges and ordered her immediate release. In the face of pressure from parts of the public involving threats of violence and unrest, the government backtracked and agreed to stop Asia Bibi leaving the country until the Supreme Court heard a “review petition” in her case. She has remained in protective custody since.
On 29 January 2019, the Supreme Court dismissed the review petition and upheld its acquittal.
Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are overbroad, vague and coercive. They have been used to target religious minorities, pursue personal vendettas and carry out vigilante violence. On the basis of little or no evidence, the accused struggle to establish their innocence while angry and violent groups of people seek to intimidate the police, witnesses, prosecutors, lawyers and judges.