Pakistan extremists want Christian woman executed despite blasphemy acquittal
Extremists are vowing to take matters into their own hands and execute Asia Bibi for 'insulting Islam', despite a ruling by Pakistan's Supreme Court on Tuesday rejecting a challenge against its decision to acquit her.
Hours before the ruling, the Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which led violent protests demanding Bibi's execution after her acquittal, called for its members to be ready for action in a message sent to journalists.
"She deserves to be murdered according to Shariah," Hafiz Ehtisham Ahmed, an Islamist activist linked to the extremist Red Mosque in Islamabad, told AFP.
The new ruling lifts the last legal hurdle in the years-long blasphemy case and potentially paves the way for the Christian mother to leave the country to safety, her defence team and activists hope.
The ruling ignited immediate calls from activists to allow Bibi to leave Pakistan, where she remains a prime target of extremists. The government is refusing to reveal her whereabouts as Islamist militants call for her murder.
Speculation is rampant that she will seek asylum in a European or North American country, and unconfirmed Pakistani reports claim her children have already fled to Canada.
Moments after the ruling was announced, Bibi's lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook hinted that his client's move could be imminent.
"I think at this time she is here (in Pakistan) - but by tonight, I don't know," he told reporters outside the court.
Extremists "said they would kill her despite the judgement of the Supreme Court", he said. "Therefore, I think she should leave the country."
"She should now be free to reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice," Amnesty International said in a statement.
But extremists vow Bibi will not be safe even if she leaves the country.
"If she goes abroad, don't Muslims live there? If she goes out of Pakistan... anybody can kill her there," Hafiz Ehtisham Ahmed threatened.
Chief Justice Khosa - considered the country's top expert in criminal law, and who helped draft the original acquittal - expressed frustration at the furious reaction by an extremist minority.
"When you meet the demands of justice, death decrees are issued against you," he told the court.
"Is this the face of Islam that we want to show to the world?"
Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 in what swiftly became Pakistan's most infamous blasphemy case.
|"Is this the face of Islam that we want to show to the world?"
--Chief Justice Khosa
The Supreme Court overturned her conviction last year, sparking days of violent demonstrations with enraged extremists calling for her beheading.
Authorities struck a deal to end the violence which included allowing the petition seeking an appeal against the Supreme Court's judgement.
Blasphemy remains a massively inflammatory issue in Pakistan, where even unproven accusations of insulting Islam can spark lynchings.
Many cases see Muslims accusing Muslims, and rights activists say blasphemy charges are frequently used to settle personal scores.
Minorities - particularly Christians - are often caught in the crossfire.
The allegations against Bibi date back to 2009, when Muslim women accused her of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, a charge punishable by death under Pakistan law.
The accusation emerged from an argument after Bibi was asked to fetch water while working in the fields, but the women objected to her touching the water bowl as a non-Muslim.
Bibi has denied the charges, and her prosecution rallied international rights groups, politicians and religious figures.
Pope Benedict XVI called for her release in 2010, while in 2015 her daughter met his successor Pope Francis.
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