Freed Asia Bibi plans to leave Pakistan soon

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010
Credit
Reuters

Asia Bibi was sentenced in 2010 Credit Reuters

Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), a hardline religious political party, chant slogans during a protest on the blocked Faizabad bridge following the Supreme Court decision to acquit Christian woman Asia Bibi, in Islamabad on November 1, 2018.

The top court in a landmark decision on Wednesday overturned Bibi's 2010 conviction on blasphemy charges.

"I can't believe what I am hearing, will I go out now?"

Agence France-Presse news agency quoted Bibi's reaction by phone following the ruling.

"I think they may placate the fanatics for a little while", he says, "just to give them time to get Asia out of the country".

The agreement was signed by Dr Noorul Haq Qadri (religious affairs minister) and Raja Basharat (law minister Punjab) on behalf of the government, and by Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri (senior leader of the TLP) and Muhammad Waheed Noor (central chief nazim of the TLP).

But the acquittal was met with near silence on the country's airwaves as broadcasters appeared to be steer clear of covering the controversial topic.

The court has set no dates to take up the petition, but Bibi's release could be further delayed by the process.

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In its judgement, the court declared there were "glaring and stark" contradictions in the case against her.

He clarified that the decision on whether or not to bar Asia Bibi from leaving the country would be made by a court, and added the government would "take all steps necessary" to ensure Asia Bibi's safety. An argument ensued, and Bibi was reported to a Muslim cleric five days later for her supposed blasphemy. The two Muslim women who pressed charges denied they quarrelled with her, saying her outbursts against Islam were unprovoked.

Asia Bibi's recent acquittal in the Supreme Court has shaken the nation.

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But according to Pakistani law, the grounds for review petitions are extremely narrow and such appeals are seldom upheld, meaning the court's acquittal of Bibi is likely to stand. A series of changes were introduced in the 1980s, making derogatory remarks against any Islamic personage a crime under Section 295 of Pakistan's Penal Code and punishable by three years in prison; prescribing life imprisonment for "wilful desecration of the Quran"; and punishing blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed with "death, or imprisonment for life". Pope Benedict XVI called for her release.

The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, has been celebrated as a martyr by hardliners since he was hanged for the killing, with hundreds visiting a shrine set up for him near the capital, Islamabad, every day.

Taseer's son Shahbaz tweeted "Pakistan Zindabad", meaning "Long live Pakistan", following the ruling. It led to the prime minister, Imran Khan, warning the protesters in an evening televised address that the state could be forced to act against them.

Analysts have warned the tactic could deepen sectarian fractures and potentially spill into violence. Only two months later, Pakistan's minister for minorities Shabaz Bhatti - who also spoke out about the need to reform blasphemy laws - was killed by assassins.

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