By Robin Gomes
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the acquittal of Asia Bibi, the Catholic woman who had been on death row on charges of blasphemy, dismissing a petition filed by Islamists who have called for her execution.
"On merit, this petition is dismissed," Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said in court, saying the petition had failed to point out any mistake in the original judgement nearly 3 months ago.
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.
In remarks in court, Khosa was severely critical of the petitioners' attempt to have the judgment reversed and said Bibi had been convicted on the basis of false evidence, pointing to discrepancies in testimony presented in the original case.
"You think we give the death sentence to someone on the basis of false evidence?" Khosa said. "Such lies were told that one statement doesn't match with another," the chief justice said. "Please point out any error in our judgement and we're ready to rectify it," he said. "You start declaring someone deserves to be killed just on the basis of false evidence."
8 years on death row
Bibi, a 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.
She and her supporters say she was punished for drinking from a glass meant for Muslims.
In a historic ruling on October 31, Chief Justice Mian Saquib Nisar of Pakistan acquitted Asia Bibi, ordering her release. Nisar retired on January 17.
That acquittal triggered violent protests from religious hardliners calling for her death and demanding that the government prevent her from leaving the country until the review of the Supreme Court verdict.
After her release from prison on Nov. 7, Bibi was flown to Islamabad and taken to an undisclosed location amid tight security for her safety.
Hours before the Supreme Court dismissed the review petition, hardliners who led the protests last year, issued a new warning to the court not to rule in favour of the "blasphemer".
Bibi and her family can now leave Pakistan for any country offering them asylum.