Pakistan's top court will decide next week whether a challenge against the acquittal of Christian mother Asia Bibi can proceed as radical Islamists continue to call for her execution.
Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Malook, revealed that on Jan. 29 Pakistan’s Supreme Court will review a petition launched by Islamists calling for her blasphemy conviction to be overturned, the Pakistani news outlet Dawn reports. If the court rejects the petition, Bibi will finally be free to leave Pakistan.
The 47-year-old mother-of-five, who was on death row for eight years, was accused by Muslim farm laborers of having insulted the Islamic prophet Muhammad, which is an offense punishable by death in Pakistan.
She was convicted despite denying the charges, and in October the Supreme Court overturned the guilty verdict. The decision sparked nationwide protests by Muslim hardliners, prompting authorities to take Bibi into hiding. Since her acquittal, she has since been living at a secret location, under guard.
Muslim extremists have threatened to kill anyone who supports Bibi, and in efforts to end the violence, authorities struck a deal with protesters. As part of the agreement, the Pakistani government pledged she would remain in the country until the Supreme Court reviews the petition against her acquittal.
A three-member bench will hear the review petition, which claims that the Supreme Court's acquittal of Bibi did not meet the standards of jurisprudence as well as Islamic provisions.
Ghulam Mustafa Chaudhry, the lawyer who filed the petition seeking an appeal, told AFP the court is expected to decide the same day if the appeal is admitted or not.
In December, he told the BBC he gets "a lot of peace" from prosecuting alleged blasphemers like Bibi and "will be rewarded for it in the hereafter.”
"For us the most sacred thing is [Islamic] prophet Muhammad. Everything we do is for him," he said, insisting that no Muslim would ever falsely accuse a non-Muslim of committing blasphemy.
Despite her release from prison, Bibi continues to live in fear of being killed and is guarded by security forces who've barred her from even opening a window, an unidentified friend revealed earlier this month. She’s also undergoing treatment for various illnesses she suffered while in prison.
Bibi’s children have been taken to Canada for their safety, and while various western countries have been mentioned as possible destinations that could grant the Christian woman asylum, her fate remains uncertain.
Pakistan’s notorious blasphemy laws prescribe a death sentence for anyone convicted of insulting Islam or the Muhammad.
Approximately 40 people are believed to be on death row or serving a life sentence for blasphemy, according to a 2018 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. While no one convicted of blasphemy has ever been legally executed in Pakistan, at least 70 people have reportedly been killed since 1990 in attacks by lynch mobs.
Rights groups say the law is frequently misused, often to settle personal vendettas and property disputes — and religious minorities are disproportionately affected by such accusations.
Those who call for changes to the country’s blasphemy law also risk death: In 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province who had campaigned for Bibi’s release and changes in the laws, was shot and killed by his police bodyguard.
Two months later, Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister of minorities and the only Christian cabinet minister in the Pakistani government, was also killed after he also calling for changes to the blasphemy law.
Pakistan ranks as the fifth worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s World Watch List.