Upholding the acquittal verdict it first delivered in October, the Supreme Court of Pakistan determined Tuesday that Asia Bibi was not guilty of blaspheming Mohammed in 2009 and is finally free to leave the country after a decade of imprisonment.
“I am really [grateful] to everybody, now after nine years it is confirmed that I am free and I will be going to hug my daughters,” a friend quoted Bibi as saying, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Bibi’s daughters recently fled to Canada on asylum. (RELATED: Asia Bibi’s Lawyer Returns To Pakistan For Her Blasphemy Trial)
The verdict gives closure to three months of political turmoil that has engulfed Pakistan since the high court first sought to exonerate the Pakistani Catholic woman on a 2010 blasphemy charge. Slandering the prophet of Islam is a capital offense in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. (RELATED: Andrew Brunson’s American Pastor Recounts Harrowing Turkish Courtroom Experience)
Bibi was first accused of the crime in 2009, when she was reportedly picking berries on a sweltering summer day with other women from her rural village outside of Lahore, Pakistan. According to Bibi, who recounted her experience to French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet in 2011, her ordeal began when the others refused to drink after her because of her Christian faith.
Saying her faith had made the drinking cup “unclean,” the women began to hurl curses at Bibi, demanding that she convert to Islam. Refusing, she said, “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind? And why should it be me that converts instead of you?”
For that comment, she was reportedly thrown into prison, where for nearly 10 years she awaited a death sentence. Her ordeal brought international attention to Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy law, though two politicians who used her case to call for its reformation were publicly assassinated.
When Bibi was at last acquitted in October, protests led by the radical Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik party erupted across Pakistan and brought several parts of the country to a standstill. Though they were allowed to appeal Bibi’s acquittal, the party’s leaders were recently arrested on charges of sedition and terrorism and remain in custody. (RELATED: Asia Bibi Protest Organizer Charged With Terrorism And Sedition)
“The image of Islam we are showing to the world gives me much grief and sorrow,” Pakistan’s Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khan Khosa said before dismissing the appeal, according to the AP.
Hundreds remain imprisoned in Pakistan on charges of blasphemy. In a November op-ed, Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul accused the U.S. of “subsidizing the war on Christianity” by continuing to send financial aid to a country that persecutes Christians so brutally.