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Asia Bibi. Asia Bibi. 

Pakistan’s Supreme court to hear challenge to Asia Bibi’s acquittal

The Supreme Court of Pakistan will decide on Jan. 29 whether or not to hear an appeal challenging its Oct. 31 acquittal of the Catholic mother, Asia Bibi, who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010.

By Robin Gomes

Pakistan's Supreme Court will hear a review petition next week challenging its own acquittal of Catholic death row inmate, Asia Bibi, on charges of blasphemy. 

The country’s apex court announced on Jan. 24 that it will hear the appeal on Jan. 29.

The petition was filed last November after Bibi's death sentence was struck down by the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment which drew praise from minorities and human rights activists but drew the wrath of extremist Muslims with violent protests.

The mother of four had been held in solitary confinement on death row since 2010 after being convicted of blasphemy. She was jailed after a row with her co-workers in June 2009 after accusations that she had made offensive remarks about the Prophet Muhammad, an offence punishable by death in Pakistan.

Bibi's supporters say that she was punished for drinking water from a glass meant for Muslims.

Acquittal and review

A three-judge panel comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel heard Bibi's appeal on October 31 and ordered her immediate release.

The ensuing violent protests by Islamists paralyzed the nation.

A three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel will hear the review petition on Tuesday.  

The petition was filed by Muhammad Salam, a Lahore-based cleric.  Salam had also sought the placement of Asia's name on the Exit Control List (ECL), putting her exit from Pakistan on hold until the review.

The court will rule whether to admit the appeal for hearing or discard it. If the court rejects the appeal, there will be no further legal constraints on Bibi leaving Pakistan.

Asia Bibi still unsafe

After her release from prison on Nov. 7, Bibi was flown to Islamabad and taken to an undisclosed place amid tight security for her safety. 

Hyacinth Peter, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Major Religious Superiors Leadership Conference, hopes the petition will be rejected by the Supreme Court.

"Only the lower courts are pressurized by mobs and clerics during hearings in blasphemy cases. The supreme courts usually stand firm on their judgments; reviews do not change anything," Peter told ucanews.com.

Father Abid Habib, former regional coordinator of the Justice and Peace Commission, fears for Bibi's safety.

"The lives of blasphemy victims are always at stake. Even after acquittal, they are always vulnerable and never free to live happily in Pakistan," he told ucanews .  "All of them have taken asylum in other countries,” he said, adding “the state must take serious steps to ensure their normal life once declared innocent."

Legal experts said it is very unlikely the Supreme Court will overturn its own verdict on Asia Bibi.  Chief Justice Khosa, considered the country´s top expert in criminal law had helped draft Bibi’s acquittal.

25 January 2019, 21:10