Pakistan’s Top Court Upholds Asia Bibi's Acquittal -- She's Now Free to Leave

1/29/2019 -- Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy, and ruled that she is now free to leave the country where she has been on death row for nearly a decade and where she still faces grave danger from Islamists who want her publicly executed.

Bibi is now expected to join her family in Canada, where they fled last week in anticipation of unrest surrounding the court decision.

The blasphemy accusation was based on flimsy evidence following a dispute that took place in June 2009 between Bibi and a group of Muslim coworkers with whom she had been harvesting berries. The Muslim coworkers became angry with Bibi when she, a Christian whom they considered unclean, drank water from the same water bowl as the Muslims. An argument between Bibi and the Muslim women ensued and later the Muslim coworkers reported to a local cleric that Bibi had blasphemed against Muhammad -- an offense punishable by death in Pakistan. It is not uncommon for false blasphemy accusations to be made in order to settle scores or intimidate religious minorities.

Bibi's acquittal in October for lack of evidence prompted widespread, violent protests across Pakistan, with massive crowds calling for the deaths of Bibi and all the judges involved. The chaos was only abated by the Supreme Court's agreement to let the Islamists file a review petition calling for the acquittal to be overturned and the death sentence carried out. Today the Supreme Court rejected the petition.

Since her original acquittal, Bibi has been transferred from safehouse to safehouse as authorities worked to keep her from being killed by mobs of extremists who have been searching for her.

Bibi reportedly watched today's court decision on live television from a secret location where she is being held. “I am really gratefully to everybody, now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters,” a friend quoted her as saying.

Pakistani authorities including riot police are have prepared for mass protests, rioting, and violence in response to the court's decision.

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