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Pakistan

Pakistan rejects petition against Christian's blasphemy

Supporters of the party Jamiat-e-Ittihad ul Ulema protest a court decision to acquit Asia Bibi of blasphemy, Karachi, 9 November 2018
Supporters of the party Jamiat-e-Ittihad ul Ulema protest a court decision to acquit Asia Bibi of blasphemy, Karachi, 9 November 2018 ASIF HASSAN / AFP

Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a petition by an extreme Islamist party, challenging its decision to acquit a Christian woman on blasphemy charges. The ruling paves the way for Asia Bibi to leave the country after eight years on death row.

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"Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed," Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa told a hearing at Pakistan's highest court Tuesday.

The same court overturned Bibi's death sentence for blasphemy last October, prompting days of violent protests with enraged extremists calling for her execution.

Authorities struck a deal to end the violence which included allowing the petition by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, seeking an appeal against the Supreme Court's judgment.

Moments after Tuesday's ruling was announced, Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook hinted that his client's move could be imminent.

"I think at this time she is here (in Pakistan) -- but by tonight, I don't know," he told reporters outside the court.

Extremists "said they would kill her despite the judgement of the Supreme Court," he said. "Therefore, I think she should leave the country."

"She should now be free to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice," Amnesty International said in a statement echoed by other rights activists.

Explosive issue

Unconfirmed Pakistani reports claim her children have already fled to Canada, which has offered Bibi asylum.

The allegations against Bibi, a Christian farm worker, date back to 2009.

Her neighbours accused her of making derogatory remarks about Islam, and refused to drink from the same container as a Christian woman.

Blasphemy remains a highly explosive issue in Pakistan, where even unproven accusations of insulting Islam can spark lynchings.

Bibi has always maintained her innocence in a case that has polarised Pakistan.

She has been held at a secret location since her death sentence was overturned in 2018, but could be flown out of the country within hours. 

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