Pakistan’s Supreme Court dismissed a final petition on Tuesday to appeal the liberation of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother sentenced to death on what the court found were false charges of blasphemy against Islam, technically setting Bibi free after nearly a decade in prison.
The Pakistani government allowed Islamic radicals to appeal Bibi’s freedom in November after the Supreme Court initially ruled in her favor, disregarding law that makes the Supreme Court the nation’s court of last resort. Officials accepted the appeal to stop violent Muslim riots that broke out in most of Pakistan’s major cities demanding the death of Bibi and all Supreme Court justices, shutting down schools and businesses and resulting in widespread destruction of public property.
“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,” Bibi reportedly said in a message relayed to the Associated Press by an anonymous friend following the appeal dismissal.
Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who was involved in the original dismissal of the case against Bibi, ruled that the Supreme Court could not accept the appeal because the Islamist groups arguing for another review did not bring any new evidence against Bibi and did not make any arguments of legal failures in the initial process of evaluating the case.
Khosa reprimanded the Islamist petition for painting a negative image of the religion and defending witnesses that the court found to be untruthful upon final appeal.
“There is a clear difference between the testimonies of all the witnesses, and yet you block all of Pakistan questioning why you did not get your way,” Khosa said, according to the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “You blame us and say what kind of people are we [for acquitting Aasia] … look at yourself, what kind of accusation have you made.”
Khosa suggested that the only reason the Muslims accusing Bibi of blasphemy did not go to prison themselves was “the sensitivity of the case.”
The justice also reprimanded the Islamists that brought forward the petition, saying they misunderstand Islam.
“The verdict was given on the basis of testimonies; does Islam say that one should be punished even if they are found not guilty?” he reportedly asked. “Is this the picture of Islam that he [petitioner Qari sahib] wants to present? Are these the kind of witnesses [that should be presented in a case]?”
These remarks echo what the Supreme Court said in its original review of the case, where it accused the accusers, and not Bibi, of blasphemy for lying about what she had said in public.
“Blasphemy is a serious offence but the insult of the appellant’s religion and religious sensibilities by the complainant party and then mixing truth with falsehood in the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was also not short of being blasphemous,” Khosa had declared in October.
Bibi remains in hiding to protect her from violent mobs and the government has deployed police throughout the country’s major cities to minimize violence and property destruction. Despite her initial release, death threats made it impossible for Bibi to leave government custody, though the government did allow her to leave prison.
Prior to the decision Tuesday, two of Bibi’s daughters fled the country to Canada. The U.K. Telegraph reported last week that Bibi herself “is expected to join her daughters in Canada” assuming the Supreme Court set her free. Following her initial acquittal in October, campaigns surfaced around the free world urging governments to grant asylum to Bibi and her family, arguing that remaining in Pakistan would guarantee her death at the hands of a Muslim mob. Lynchings of Christians and Hindus accused of blasphemy or desecrating the Quran are not uncommon in Pakistan, which has never officially executed someone for blasphemy despite the penal code requiring it in cases where an individual is found guilty of insulting Muhammad.
The British Pakistani Christian Association (BCPA), an advocacy group that has been involved in the effort to get Bibi and her family out of the country, celebrated the dismissal of the appeal against Bibi on Tuesday.
“Asia Bibi has always been innocent and it is a blight on Pakistan that it took almost ten years to come to this decision to free her,” Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the BPCA, said in a statement. “Asia is an international figure now and can represent not only the Pak-Christian cause but the cause for all persecuted Christians and minorities. This woman’s sacrifice deserves a noble peace prize and I know soon many key figures across the globe will be challenging for this to happen.”
Bibi was arrested in 2009 after a work dispute in which her Muslim co-workers accused her of drinking water out of a cup they had designated for Muslims only, sullying the cup. The co-workers claimed that Bibi had responded to their accusations by blaspheming against Muhammad, a claim Bibi has consistently denied. She has been on death row for eight years after the lowest-level court found her guilty of blasphemy.
The Supreme Court overturned the sentence in late October, triggering mob riots organized by Islamist groups in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, and other major Pakistani cities. Rioters, unable to access Bibi herself, began targeting and attacking known Christians in their own neighborhoods, establishing roadblocks to question travelers about their religion and beat them if they said they were Christian.