Pakistan court to review acquittal in blasphemy trial
ISLAMABAD (AP) — The lawyer of a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for charges of blasphemy vowed to secure her freedom when the country’s Supreme Court meets Tuesday to reconsider an acquittal announced last year.
Aasia Bibi was released from prison in October but has been under guard in a secret location since then because of death threats from Islamic extremists. Blasphemy against Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan, and the mere rumor that someone has committed blasphemy can ignite lynchings.
If Pakistan’s top court upholds its earlier ruling, Bibi will be free to leave for Canada, where her daughters have already been granted asylum.
Her attorney, Saiful Malook, who has also received death threats and fled the country after her acquittal, is back in Islamabad and will attend Tuesday’s hearing.
“I am sure the review petition ... will be rejected,” Malook told The Associated Press on Monday. He said he has asked authorities to provide him with personal security.
The petitioners “have no case against my client, I am sure of that,” Malook added.
The 54-year-old mother of five was arrested in 2009 after being accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two Muslim farm workers who refused to drink from a water container used by a Christian in a village in eastern Punjab province. A local mob, incited by a cleric, accused Bibi of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Police arrested her, and she was sentenced to death in 2010.
Her Oct. 31 acquittal led hard-line Islamists to stage nationwide protests for days demanding the re-imposition of her death sentence. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government promised Bibi would not be allowed to leave Pakistan until her case was reviewed, bringing a halt to protests.
Days later, authorities arrested radical cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi and several of his followers for organizing rallies against Bibi. The cleric and the others remain in custody pending trial for damaging public property and threatening Supreme Court judges.
The cleric petitioning the court for Bibi’s return to death row, Qari Salam, is linked with Rizvi’s Tehreek-i-Labaik party, which first brought the case forward in 2009.
Rizvi’s party said Monday it will not accept any decision in favor of Bibi’s release. In a strongly worded statement, the party asked its followers to prepare for more mass protests.
Pakistani police have stepped up security around the Supreme Court in Islamabad on the eve of its ruling.