Islamabad, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a review petition challenging its decision to acquit Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death over blasphemy charges, removing the last legal hurdle in the years-long case and potentially paving the way for her exit from the country.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa tossed out the plea against Bibi’s October 31 acquittal that had sparked three-day mass protests led by the hardline Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Geo News reported.
“Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed…You could not point out (even) a single mistake in the Supreme Court’s verdict,” Justice Khosa told the lawyer of petitioner, cleric Qari Mohammed Salam.
The justice said that the cleric’s lawyer Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry could not establish that there were any errors in the verdict of absolving her. The court also rejected his petition to include Islamic scholars in the hearing.
“Does Islam say that one should be punished if the crime is not proven,” said Justice Khosa and asked the lawyer not to abuse Islam and reflect on what image of Pakistan was being projected to the world by virtue of this case.
Bibi’s lawyer Saiful Malook, who returned to Pakistan during the weekend after a three-month exile in Europe due to fear of extremists, was seen celebrating the decision before television cameras in front of the court, Efe news reported.
“Aasia Bibi is a free woman now and she will live in a beautiful country,” said Malook, without revealing her destination.
But he told Efe a few hours earlier that two of her daughters had moved to Canada recently. The decision allowed Bibi to leave the country and reunite with her daughters in Canada.
Bibi, a mother of five, spent eight years on death row in a prison in Multan before she was acquitted last year. She was accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad in 2009 and a court sentenced her to death in 2010. She lost an appeal before the Lahore High Court four years later.
Last year, the apex court overturned her death sentence sparking unrest. Bibi was released from prison on November 7.
The government, led by Prime Minister Imran Khan, that time reached an agreement with the TLP, promising to allow Islamists to request the judiciary to ban Bibi, kept in a safe house, from leaving the country as the court studied the appeal against her acquittal.
At the end of November, the government arrested TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi along with 3,000 of his followers.
The Islamists had on Monday night rejected the top court bench formed to hear the review petition and threatened a protest movement if Bibi was given “judicial relief”. They said the country could “go up in flames” if the court took the wrong decision.
Fearing Islamist protests, the authorities had deployed over 1,000 police officials in the vicinity of the Supreme Court along with 300 paramilitary Rangers.