In October, Pakistan’s Supreme Court overturned the death sentence placed on Asia Bibi, a minority Christian woman who was convicted in 2010 of blasphemy under section 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code.
Led in part by the extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan party (TLP), thousands filled the streets in the following days, protesting Bibi’s acquittal. There were calls for Bibi’s death, as well as the deaths of the three judges who acquitted her.
In an attempt to appease the TLP and other hardliners who railed against the ruling, the prime minister’s administration reportedly agreed to look into placing Bibi on the "exit control list" while a petition against the acquittal was reviewed. This would prevent her from leaving Pakistan despite the court’s decision in her favor.
On Tuesday, however, Asia Bibi’s acquittal was upheld by the Pakistani Supreme Court, and she is now free to leave Pakistan. According to the BBC, she "is being kept by authorities at a secret location in Islamabad." This secrecy will likely continue until such a time that Bibi can leave the country.
The Associated Press writes that Bibi watched the announcement on TV, and is ready to see her daughters, who previously fled to Canada. An anonymous friend relayed the following quote from Bibi: "I am really grateful to everybody. Now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters."
The original complaint against Bibi came in June 2009. As the Christian mother of five picked berries in a field with a number of Muslim women, she became thirsty, and went to a nearby well for water. One Muslim woman allegedly accused Bibi of contaminating the water because of her Christian faith, making it unfit for the Muslim women to drink.
According to Bibi’s own memoir, after being accused of dirtying the water, she said: "I think Jesus would see it differently from Muhammad." This remark inflamed the women, one of whom demanded that she convert to Islam.
Bibi allegedly replied: "I’m not going to convert. I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Muhammad ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?"
Bibi claims that several days later, she was hauled from the berry field into the village, where she was beaten. It was alleged that Bibi had insulted Islam in violation of blasphemy laws — a charge which she denied. During the beatings, she was again told to convert, but she refused, and was later taken into police custody.
In November 2010, Bibi was convicted of blasphemy, and sentenced to death by hanging. In 2014, the sentence was upheld by the Lahore high court.
In the November acquittal verdict, Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa wrote in part:
Blasphemy is a serious offense 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. It is ironical that in the Arabic language the appellant’s name Asia means 'sinful' but in the circumstances of the present case she appears to be a person, in the words of Shakespeare’s King Lear, "more sinned against than sinning."
Also in the original acquittal verdict from November, Chief Justice Khosa challenged the alleged inconsistencies in the witness statements against Bibi. On Tuesday, he condemned the witnesses, stating that they "committed perjury."
It’s not currently known when Asia Bibi will leave Pakistan.