Pakistan’s top court will hear a review petition challenging the acquittal of Catholic death row inmate Asia Bibi on charges of blasphemy, it announced on Jan. 24.
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.
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 offense punishable by death.
Bibi’s supporters say that she was punished for drinking a glass of water from a cup meant for Muslims.
A three-judge panel comprising Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel heard Bibi’s appeal in October and ordered her immediate release.
The decision led to violent protests by Islamists who paralyzed the country.
News channel Geo TV reported that a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Qazi Faiz Isa and Justice Mazhar Alam will hold a hearing on the review petition on Jan. 29. The petition was filed by Muhammad Salam, a Lahore-based cleric.
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.
After her release from prison on Nov. 7, Bibi was flown to Islamabad and taken to an undisclosed place amid tight security. Authorities have remained tightlipped about her whereabouts for security reasons.
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.
The protests over Bibi’s acquittal led to the arrest of Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the hard-line Sunni group Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan and his supporters.
An anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Jan. 22 sent Rizvi and five others to jail on a 14-day judicial remand. Strict security arrangements were in place as his supporters gathered outside the court with his photos and bags of rose petals. “I am Khadim Hussain Rizvi and I am not a terrorist,” stated their placards.
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 said.
“All of them have taken asylum in other countries. Crackpot mullahs like Rizvi keep instigating people to kill the alleged blasphemers to win the favor of the Prophet Muhammad. The state must serious steps to ensure their normal life once declared innocent.”