ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani Christian woman exonerated in a blasphemy case after spending eight years on death row is set to fly to Canada where she will join her two daughters.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the October acquittal of Asia Bibi, clearing the final legal obstacle in her path to freedom.
“She will fly to Canada very soon to join her daughters who are already there, Saiful Malook, Bibi’s lawyer, told Arab News on Wednesday. “Yes, Canada has offered them asylum.”
Bibi’s daughters left Pakistan in secret and flew to Canada earlier this month after accepting an offer of asylum by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Religious hard-liners called for protests following news of Bibi’s imminent departure.
Shortly after the Supreme Court’s dismissal of a review petition, dozens of activists belonging to the ultra-Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan staged protests in cities across the country.
Scores of the protesters were arrested as authorities sought to restore calm. Bibi’s case has put an international spotlight on the misuse of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws to settle personal scores and target religious minorities.
Bibi was forced to go into hiding after her October acquittal when religious hard-liners staged nationwide protests and filed a petition asking the court to review its decision.
“This case does not have as many honest witnesses as it should have had ... and the petitioner has failed to point out any mistakes in the court’s earlier verdict,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said on Tuesday.
Prayer leader Qari Muhammad Salaam had petitioned the court, asking it to dismiss its earlier judgment and uphold the death sentence brought down in 2010.
During court proceedings on Tuesday, Salaam’s lawyer, Chaudhry Ghulam Mustafa, demanded that more justices, including Islamic scholars and clerics, be formed to hear the petition.
“How is this a matter of religion?” the chief justice asked as he dismissed the petition.
Bibi’s ordeal began in 2009 when a dispute broke out between the 54-year-old farmhand and her Muslim coworkers at a berry farm after she had filled a jug of water for her colleagues. Coworkers accused Bibi of committing blasphemy and she was sentenced to death by a district court in 2010.
She spent eight years on death row until her acquittal her last year. After protesters poured on to the streets in several Pakistani cities, the government was forced to take Bibi into protective custody on Nov. 7.
“After nine years behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit, it is difficult to see this long-overdue verdict as justice,” Rimmel Mohydin, Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, said. “But Bibi should now be free to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice.”