Pakistan Supreme Court upholds acquittal of Christian woman accused of blasphemy

Saif-ul-Malook fled to the Netherlands from Pakistan in November last year

Saif-ul-Malook fled to the Netherlands from Pakistan in November last year

Bibi, who spent eight years on death row, has been in hiding since the Supreme Court freed her in October.

The apex court's decision in October to overturn the conviction of Aasia Bibi sparked nationwide protests and death threats from hardline groups.

Prosecutors alleged that in the row which followed, the women said Asia Bibi should convert to Islam and that she made offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad in response.

Prove to us what [you believe] is wrong with the verdict, said Chief Justice Khosa. "The judges raised pertinent legal questions, focusing on law and evidence, expressing displeasure over the perjury that was committed by the complainant against Asia and other witnesses".

The TLP called off the protests after striking a deal with the government that would see authorities seek to put Bibi on an "exit control list" barring her from leaving the country.

"I am really grateful to everybody, now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters", he quoted Bibi as saying. The Christian mother was immediately placed under protective custody in a discrete location while the court reviewed the overturned conviction. This means she is now officially a free woman, as she thought she was at the end of past year.

Unconfirmed Pakistani reports claim her children have already fled to Canada.

Bibi's acquittal last fall incited days of protests by radical Islamists who called for her death, as well as the deaths of the three judges behind the ruling.

Bibi's lawyer, Saiful Malook, who returned to Islamabad after fleeing the country amid death threats, called the decision a victory for Pakistan's constitution and rule of law.

Last year, NPR spoke with demonstrator Mohammed Fayyaz, who denounced the acquittal.

The beauty of a Muslim community is that non-Muslims are taken care of, said the CJP, addressing the lawyer. "They are playing with fire".

The vast majority of those convicted are Muslims or members of the Ahmadi community who identify themselves as Muslims but are regarded as heretical by orthodox Islam.

Security was tightened in Islamabad this week in anticipation of the court's decision and of potential unrest.

The Islamabad administration on Monday made stringent security arrangements in the capital ahead of the verdict.

"Please point out any error in our judgement and we're ready to rectify it", he said.

FILE - Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, listens to Governor of Pakistani Punjab Province Salman Taseer, unseen, at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Nov. 20, 2010.

"The case of Asia Bibi is a priority for our government, and we are focused on ensuring the safety of her and her family".

Chief Justice Asif Saeed remarked "Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed". The country's blasphemy laws are vague and coercive and can persecute people with little or no evidence, the organization said.

Following Ms. Bibi's initial acquittal, radical religious parties took to the streets in mass protests, calling for the killing of the judges behind the ruling and for the overthrow of Prime Minister Imran Khan's government. Experts say it would be highly unusual for the court to allow an appeal against its own ruling.

"No one should expect a compromise from our end", he said.

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