Christian woman who spent eight years on death row free to leave country

Asia Bibi, the Christian farm labourer who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan for blasphemy, is expected to leave the country after the supreme court upheld her acquittal.

The court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to October’s ruling brought by an extreme Islamist party, which led violent protests across the country in the autumn and called for Bibi to be killed.

Bibi, who has been held at a secret location since her death sentence was overturned, may be flown out of the country within hours. Two of her children are reportedly already in Canada, which has offered Bibi asylum.

The supreme court’s decision will be welcomed by Christian and human rights campaigners, who have lobbied western countries to offer sanctuary to Bibi, her husband and five children.

Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, one of a three-judge panel that considered the petition, said: “Based on merit, this review petition is dismissed.”

In a statement, Amnesty International said Bibi should be free “to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice”.

But Hafiz Ehtisham Ahmed, an Islamist activist linked to the extremist Red Mosque in Islamabad, said Bibi may not be safe wherever she goes. “She deserves to be murdered according to Shariah. If she goes abroad, don’t Muslims live there? If she goes out of Pakistan … anybody can kill her there,” she told AFP.

The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which was formed to defend Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and which led violent protests demanding Bibi’s execution after her acquittal, called on Tuesday for its members to be ready for action.

However, most of its leaders are in detention after a government crackdown, and there were few protesters at the court in Islamabad.

Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 in what swiftly became Pakistan’s most infamous blasphemy case. She had been accused by Muslim villagers of insulting the prophet Muhammad in a row over a cup of water.

Blasphemy is a highly inflammatory issue in Pakistan, where even unproven accusations of insulting Islam can spark lynchings. Human rights activists say blasphemy charges are frequently used to settle personal scores.

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