Top Pakistan court upholds blasphemy acquittal of Christian woman

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy, dismissing a petition filed by Islamists who have called for her execution.

The decision leaves Bibi, who has been staying at an undisclosed location under tight security, free to leave Pakistan and seek asylum abroad.

“On merit, this petition is dismissed,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told the court, saying the petitioners, led by a village prayer leader, had failed to point out any mistake in the original judgement which he said had been based on false evidence.

In November, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping Bibi, however there was no confirmation of her whereabouts or intentions following the verdict.

The case, which drew worldwide attention, shone a spotlight on Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws and the often difficult conditions facing its Christian minority who make up 1.6 percent of the largely Sunni Muslim country of over 200 million.

Bibi, a farm worker, was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors working in the fields with her objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.

Her conviction was overturned in October, prompting protests from religious hardliners calling for her death and demanding that the government prevent her from leaving the country.

Under pressure from days of protests in the capital, Islamabad, and other cities, the government agreed to stop Bibi leaving the country until the Supreme Court considered the petition.

Bibi has been in hiding since the Supreme Court freed her in October, after eight years on death row. She has always denied committing blasphemy.

Hours before the Supreme Court decision, Shafeeq Ameeni, acting head of the hardline Tehreek-e Labaik group, which led the protests last year, issued a new warning to the court not to rule in favor of the “blasphemer”.

Ameeni was not immediately available for comment after the ruling but in remarks in court, Chief Justice Khosa was severely critical of the petitioners’ attempt to have the judgment reversed.

He said Bibi had been convicted on false evidence and pointed to discrepancies in testimony in the original case.

“You think we give the death sentence to someone on the basis of false evidence?” Khosa said. “Such lies were told that one statement doesn’t match with another.”

“You start declaring someone deserves to be killed just on the basis of false evidence.”

Rights group Amnesty International called for Bibi to be allowed 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,” said Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, Rimmel Mohydin.

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