/**/ Pakistan Supreme Court to review Christian's blasphemy acquittal Pakistan Supreme Court to review Christian's blasphemy acquittal

Pakistan Supreme Court to review Christian's blasphemy acquittal

Aasia Bibi's acquittal angered right-wingers who staged nationwide protests

Pakistan's Supreme Court will begin a review of its acquittal of a Christian woman charged with blasphemy, a verdict that sparked days of protests, death threats, and chaos across the country.

On Tuesday, Pakistan's Supreme Court will hear a petition for a review of its acquittal of Aasia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy before being released last October.

Blasphemy against Islam is punishable by death in Pakistan and a mere rumour or accusation that someone has committed blasphemy has in the past led to lynchings. The country's hard-liners have made the issue their rallying cry.

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. She is currently under guard at a secret location in Pakistan for her own safety.

Her lawyer, Saiful Malook, who himself received death threats for defending her and who fled the country after Bibi's acquittal, is now back in Islamabad for Tuesday's hearing. Malook told Reuters news agency he expected the case to be dismissed.

"They have filed the petition on flimsy grounds. They haven't attempted to counter her release on constitutional grounds," Malook said.

Widespread outrage

The 54-year-old mother of five was arrested in 2009 after being accused of blasphemy following a quarrel with two female Muslim farm workers who refused to drink from a water container used by a Christian in a village in eastern Punjab province.

Incited by a local Muslim leader, a mob at the time accused her of insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Police responded by arresting Bibi, who was sentenced to death in 2010.

Her October 31 acquittal angered some Muslims who staged nationwide protests for days, demanding she be publicly hanged. Leaders of the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) group blocked the main roads in Pakistan's biggest cites for three days after Bibi's acquittal, calling for the murder of the Supreme Court judges who freed her and urging their cooks and servants to kill them.

Prime Minister Imran Khan's government then promised Bibi would not be allowed to leave Pakistan until her case is reviewed and in return, the hardliners halted their protests. The government later cracked down on TLP members, detaining more than 3,000 activists and pressing terrorism charges against the group's leaders.

Heightened security

Authorities arrested TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi and several of his followers for organising rallies against Bibi. Rizvi and the others remain in custody pending trial over damage of public property and for threatening Supreme Court judges who acquitted Bibi.

Pakistani police have stepped up security around the high court in Islamabad on the eve of the Supreme Court's final decision.

Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer for the petitioner Qari Salam, a Muslim leader linked to Rizvi's TLP party who first brought the case against Bibi in 2009, said if the petition is accepted, Bibi would be returned to prison and death row.

"Whatever is to be decided, it will be decided by the court on Tuesday," Chaudhry said.

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